Tracing the DNA of Christopher Columbus: two exhumations in Spain aim to determine the explorer's lineage once and for all

Tracing the DNA of Christopher Columbus: two exhumations in Spain aim to determine the explorer’s lineage once and for all

When Christopher Columbus died on May 20, 1506 in Valladolid, Spain, he left a historical legacy and a mystery about his true origins. Conflicting myths have emerged about the legacy of Christopher Columbus. Official theory has long held that the navigator who reached America was Genoese. In 1898, another hypothesis postulated that the explorer was born in Pontevedra, Spain, the first of five hypotheses that claim that Christopher Columbus was of Spanish origin. Portugal, Croatia and Poland have also been mentioned as possible origins of Christopher Columbus.

Now a project led by José Antonio Lorente, professor of forensic medicine at the University of Granada, is examining Columbus’ DNA. The historical community and those interested in the explorer eagerly await the results of the scientific study, which could change the last 500 years of history. After exhuming the tomb of Columbus in the Cathedral of Seville in 2003 and extracting the remains of his bones, as well as those attributed to his son Hernando and his brother Diego, Lorente began the process of carrying out an identification analysis genetics in different laboratories in Italy, USA. and Mexico.

Coming to an end, this research aims to solve the enigma of the identity and origins of the browser. The analysis was suspended for 16 years for “ethical” reasons (and was later prolonged by the Covid-19 pandemic). Due to the invaluable value of the samples taken from the Columbus family, Lorente himself thought he had to wait for better technology to analyze them, better suited to examining a small amount of DNA. This technology exists now.

Tracing the lineage of Columbus took the team from Lorente to the province of Pontevedra in Spain’s northwestern region of Galicia. Theorists of this region argue that Christopher Columbus was born there and his relatives are buried there. A few days ago, in the cemetery of San Salvador de Poio, the research team unearthed fairly well preserved bones, despite the high acidity of the soil excavated around the burial site. During the first week of November, near the medieval Benedictine monastery of San Xoán de Poio, the team members recovered possible remains of Columbus linked to the clan of sailors, experts in the art of navigation, which prospered in the powerful maritime trade that developed in this region. in the 15th century. Pilar Rodríguez and Mercedes Vázquez Bertomeu, historians at the University of Santiago, and cultural heritage experts Alicia Padín and Rafael Fontoira worked with the field team during this phase.

The other objective of the research team’s expedition to this region is located a few kilometers from Poio, in the Romanesque church of San Martiño de Sobrán, in Vilaxoán, a parish of the municipality of Vilagarcía de Arousa, which was an important city in the Middle Ages. . This Monday, researchers opened the imposing solid stone sarcophagus that is believed to house the mummy of Juan Mariño de Sotomayor, an influential clergyman who may be the cousin of Christopher Columbus. Some historians speculate that Columbus was the bastard son of a scion of this powerful family of noble landowners, and that a dispute between the family and the Catholic Monarchs of Spain forced Columbus to conceal his true identity in order to achieve his historic feat (the Sotomayors supported Juana la Beltraneja’s claim to the throne over Isabella’s).

Under the watchful eye of archaeologists Antonio Castro and Mateo Alemán, curator José Aguiño opened the heavy tombstone, while his colleague Sindo Mosteiro documented every step of the process. Upon entering, the expedition knew that opening the tomb could prove a fiasco, either because it was empty or because the anthropological remains were not sufficiently preserved to be subjected to genetic analysis. After several minutes of suspense, it became clear that was not the case. To the surprise of the team, the remains were apparently in good condition after being buried for five centuries. Inmaculada Alemán, professor of anthropology at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Granada, selected several bones and part of the skull and jaw for a total of seven samples.

If the genetic tests match, Christopher Columbus could actually be Pedro Álvarez de Soutomaior, nicknamed Pedro Madruga, according to one hypothesis. “It’s a unique expedition, [it’s] very exciting, and we hope to be closer to being able to prove our thesis, [which was] the first to question the Genoese origin of the admiral,” says pharmacist Eduardo Esteban Meruendano, president of the Galician Association Celso García de la Riega Christophe Colomb. [Asociación Cristóbal Colón Galego Celso García de la Riega]. . . . The organization is named after the historian and writer who promulgated this theory, Celso Garcia de la Riega.

December 22 this year is the 125th anniversary of the first questioning of the Italian origins of Christopher Columbus. García de la Riega documented his theory at the Geographical Society of Madrid. “The documents, the toponymy and the language served as the basis for a possibility [that has been] rejected by renowned historians, teachers and scholars,” says Eduardo Esteban. He points out that in 2013, the Spanish Institute of Cultural Heritage authenticated historical documents that support the existence of the family name of Christopher Columbus (Colón and de Colón in Spanish) in Pontevedra; it was also used in the Santa Fe Capitulations (the agreement between Columbus and Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand II that stipulated the terms of his famous voyage).

Other theories about the origins of Christopher Columbus

Professor Lorente’s scientific research aims to compile all the theories on the origins of Christopher Columbus. These hypotheses place the birth of the explorer in different cities of Spain (Valencia, Castile-La Mancha, Navarre and Majorca) as well as three possible places in Portugal. The theories are based on documentary evidence and in some cases DNA may remain.

This unusual journey in search of the DNA of Christopher Columbus began in 2003 with the exhumation of his remains in Seville. The end result of the investigation will be the basis for a documentary film and mini-series produced by Spanish Television and Story Productions. Emulating the exploration of the mummies of famous pharaohs, the audio-visual project The DNA of Columbus: its true origins will provide a step-by-step view of the scientific tests and exhumations of the remains of Christopher Columbus carried out by Professor Lorente and an extensive team of experts in forensic anthropology, history and archaeology.

Genetics labs affiliated with the University of Florence and the University of North Texas were also involved in this Columbus DNA analysis process. Forensic Genetics Laboratory of Mexico Zogbi Commercial Distributor [Distribuidora Comercial Zogbi] will confirm the results. By sharing the samples and subjecting the results to independent comparisons, Lorente aims to ensure the maximum rigor and impartiality of the final conclusions of the investigation. For his part, Eduardo Esteban hopes to learn more about Columbus and put an end to speculation. “This fascinating exploration – we still do not know where it will lead us -… will put an end to the most disparate and disturbing conjectures about [Columbus]… Some think he was the secret son of aristocratic families, while others [think he was] a spy for King John II of Portugal,” he says.

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