Page last updated at 19:52 GMT, Friday, 20 November 2009

Museum finds astronomer Galileo's lost body parts

Portrait of Galileo Galilei
The parts were taken from Galileo when he was reburied in 1737

Two fingers and a tooth belonging to famed astronomer Galileo Galilei have been found more than 100 years after going missing, a museum in Italy says.

A collector bought the items, lost since 1905, at auction and gave them to Florence's History of Science Museum.

The museum said it had no doubt about the authenticity of the items.

Scientists cut the parts - plus another finger and a vertebrae - from Galileo's body in 1737, almost 100 years after he died.

Galileo, who lived from 1564 to 1642, was a hugely influential physicist and astronomer who helped develop the telescope.

He was branded a heretic by the Catholic Church for supporting Copernicus's discovery that the Earth rotated around the Sun.

Galileo's middle finger, now on display in the History of Science Museum
This is Galileo's middle finger, kept in a museum since its 1737 removal

The body parts were removed from him 95 years after his death, when Church authorities decreed he could be reburied in consecrated ground.

One finger and the vertebrae have been conserved in museums since then, but the other parts were passed between collectors until they went missing in 1905.

The museum said that the discovery meant that everything taken from Galileo's body was now back "in responsible hands".

"On the basis of considerable historical documentation, there are no doubts about the authenticity of the items," it said in a statement.

The items will go on display at the museum in 2010, once renovation work is completed.

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