The Miami Herald
Tue, Jan. 18, 2005

In search of Columbus, team set to open tomb

Researchers moved a step closer to resolving an enduring controversy over the location of Christopher Columbus' remains.

Associated Press

MADRID - Spanish researchers say they've won permission to open a tomb in the Dominican Republic that is said to hold the body of Christopher Columbus, edging closer to solving the century-old mystery of whether those bones or another set in Spain are the explorer's remains.

Dominican Deputy Culture Minister Sulamita Puig gave the go-ahead Friday via fax to a team of two high school teachers from Seville and a leading Spanish forensic geneticist who have been testing 500-year-old bone slivers for more than two years to try to pinpoint the explorer's final resting place, said one of the teachers, Marcial Castro, who also does historical research.

During a visit to Santo Domingo Feb. 14-15, they will watch the tomb being opened, examine the condition of the bones inside and recommend to the Dominican government whether they are in good enough shape to extract DNA samples for cross-checking against samples from Columbus relatives buried in Seville, along with remains Spain says are those of Columbus himself.

''This is a big step by the Dominican government,'' Castro told The Associated Press from Seville on Monday. ``A hugely important one.''

He cautioned, however, that for now the team only has permission to examine the bones visually -- not take a DNA sample.

The problem is that the double helix that provides the blueprint for life degrades over time, just as bones do.

As soon as the team sees the bones in Santo Domingo, they'll have a good idea what they are up against.

''Just by looking at a bone, a geneticist knows the probability that it contains usable DNA,'' Castro said.

Spain says bones held in the cathedral in Seville are those of Columbus, while the Dominican Republic says that bones it is watching over in a sprawling monument to Columbus the authentic ones.

The dispute has simmered for more than 100 years.