War injuries could identify Cervantes’ bones

War injuries could identify Cervantes' bones
Francisco Etxeberria at work on a dig in 2013. Photo: Aranzadi
Researchers looking for the remains of Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, the author of "Don Quixote", said on Friday that his war injuries could hold the key to identifying him.

Scientists used infrared cameras, 3D scanners and a ground-penetrating radar last year to pinpoint the five areas at the church of the Convent of the
Barefoot Trinitarians, a church in Madrid where human remains — possibly including those of Cervantes — are thought to lie.

They will return on Saturday to begin a two-week search for bones at the church where Cervantes is recorded as having been buried a day after his death on April 22, 1616 — the same week that William Shakespeare died.

"We are looking for a skeleton of a male, of around 70 years, that has six teeth or less in the mouth and with injuries in the forearm and the left hand," forensic anthropologist Francisco Etxeberria who is leading the search told a news conference.

"These have been described, not as an amputation, but as a non-functioning arm because of those injuries. It is not impossible that we find small metal fragments embedded" in the bones," he added.

Cervantes received three musket shots, two in the chest and one in his left hand, during a 1571 naval conflict, the Battle of Lepanto, in which the Holy League led by Spain defeated the Ottoman fleet.

Though Cervantes was referred to as "El Manco de Lepanto," or "The One-armed Man of Lepanto", he did not have his arm amputated because of the shooting, though he lost use of it. 

He died a poor man but had strong links with the Madrid church's Trinitarian religious order which negotiated his release and helped pay a ransom after he was captured by pirates. The church has been expanded over the centuries, however, and the exact whereabouts of the writer's remains have been forgotten.

Etxeberria's team launched what is the first significant search for the remains of the greatest writer of the Spanish Golden Age at the end in April 2014. During the first phase of the search researchers identified 33 alcoves where bones could be stored and four tombs.

In the second phase which gets underway at the weekend they will remove the layer of plaster which covers the wall with the alcoves to see if there are funerary inscriptions.

Alcoves without inscriptions will be probed with an endoscopic camera and if any remains are found that park the interest of researchers, they will be removed an analysed in a laboratory set up in the crypt.

"In 15 days we have to leave the place having answered the question of whether the bones that are found are of a man or a woman, of a child or an adult" and if they match Cervantes's physical characteristics, said Etxeberria

If Cervantes's remains are identified, it is planned that he remain buried in the convent, which is still inhabited by nuns and has been designated part of Madrid's cultural heritage since 1921.

Born near Madrid in 1547, Cervantes has been dubbed the father of the modern novel for "The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha", published in two parts in 1605 and 1615.

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