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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 January, 2005, 13:40 GMT
New lead in Columbus bones riddle
Columbus Square in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
The Dominicans say the Spanish have the wrong remains
A century-old mystery over where the bones of Christopher Columbus lie may be a step closer to being solved.

Spanish researchers say they have been given permission to open a tomb in the Dominican Republic said to be the explorer's last resting place.

The team has been testing bone slivers from a rival set of remains from the Spanish city of Seville for the past two years.

They hope finally to establish whose is the genuine claim through DNA testing.

It is the first time the Dominican government has given permission for the researchers to study the remains in its capital, Santo Domingo.

Inconclusive results

The team, which includes a leading Spanish forensic geneticist and two teachers, will only be allowed to examine the 500-year-old bones visually at first.

They will then be able to tell the Dominican government whether they are in good enough condition to extract a DNA sample.

Box alleged to contain Columbus's bones in Seville
Scientists have cross-checked DNA from the Seville bones with others

In June 2003, they removed two boxes of bones said to be those of Columbus and his son Hernando from a tomb in Seville's cathedral for DNA testing.

These have been cross-checked with samples from remains of Columbus' relatives, also buried in Seville, but the results have been inconclusive.

The researchers believe the bones in Santo Domingo could prove the key to the puzzle - providing they are not too degraded by time.

'Wrong body'

Teacher Marcial Castro told the Associated Press news agency that the Dominican deputy culture minister had granted them permission to open the tomb in February.

"This is a big step forward by the Dominican government," he said.

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

Christopher Columbus
Columbus travelled a lot, both before and after his death

When Columbus died in 1506, his remains were to be buried in America, according to his will.

But no church of sufficient stature existed there at that time, so the explorer was buried in the Spanish city of Valladolid.

Eventually, in 1537, his remains were sent for burial to Santo Domingo.

But subsequently their removal was ordered by Spain, the colonial power, because of political upheavals on the island.

In 1877, workers digging inside the Santo Domingo cathedral unearthed a box containing bones, inscribed with the name of Christopher Columbus.

Those remains are now buried at a Columbus monument in the Dominican capital. The Dominicans say the Spaniards must have taken the wrong body.

Columbus mystery unravels
19 Sep 02 |  Europe
DNA may solve Columbus mystery
11 Jun 02 |  Americas

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