March 19, 2015

Experts are thrilled (and relieved) to ID Cervantes remains


Miguel de CervantesForensic scientists in Madrid are packing up their infrared cameras and their 3D scanners now that they’ve definitively identified the remains of Miguel de Cervantes, the great Spanish author of Don Quixote, whose bones had been lost below the city’s Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians for centuries.

We first reported on this investigation when it began last April, and then again earlier this year after the breakthrough discovery of a casket bearing Cervantes’ initials in one of 33 alcoves where experts believed he may have been buried.

Researchers had expected to identify the remains by various physical traits that would have distinguished Cervantes from others in the crypt–a bullet wound to the chest; sagging shoulders; injuries to the left hand; just six teeth (it’s quite the image)–but they’ve instead based their determination on “historical and archeological evidence such as the age of the bones and remnants of clothing.” Now they’re on to DNA testing, but since there are no known descendants of the author, forensic anthropologists don’t anticipate any more concrete results than what they’ve already found.

Historian Fernando de Prado, who spent more than four years trying to secure funding for the search before the city of Madrid agreed to foot the bill, told The Guardian on Tuesday, “It’s an enormous satisfaction. The searching has been tiring–I feel as if I’ve arrived at the end of a long hike.” The Guardian goes on to report that “Officials are hoping to open the crypt to the public for the first time in centuries to mark the 400th anniversary of Cervantes’s death.”

Taylor Sperry is a former Melville House editor.