Researchers’ bid to find Columbus’ remains

Associated Press

Madrid, January 18:

Spanish researchers say they’ve won permission to open a tomb in the Dominican Republic that is said to hold the body of Christopher Columbus, edging closer to solving the century-old mystery of whether those bones or another set in Spain are the explorer’s remains. Dominican Deputy Culture Minister Sulamita Puig gave the go-ahead on Friday via fax to a team of two high school teachers from Seville and a leading Spanish forensic geneticist who have been testing 500-year-old bone slivers for more than two years to try to pinpoint the explorer’s final resting place, said one of the teachers, Marcial Castro, who also does historical research.

During a visit to Santo Domingo February 14-15, they will watch the tomb being opened, examine the condition of the bones inside and recommend to the Dominican government whether they are in good enough shape to extract DNA samples for cross-checking against samples from Columbus relatives buried in Seville, along with remains Spain says are those of Columbus himself. “This is a big step by the Dominican government,” Castro said yesterday. “A hugely important one.” He cautioned, however, that for now the team only has permission to examine the bones visually — not take a DNA sample, which might provide the last piece missing from the puzzle. The problem is that the double helix that provides the blueprint for life degrades over time, just as bones do. As soon as the team sees the bones in Santo Domingo, they’ll have a good idea what they are up against.