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Posts Tagged ‘copernicus’

Researchers in Poland this week confirmed that the skeletal remains found in a Frombork cathedral are indeed those of Nicolaus Copernicus.  There are many amazing things about this story.  Copernicus has been dead for 465 years, yet genetic researchers were able to confirm the remains through DNA testing, comparing DNA found in the bones to DNA retrieved from hairs found in a book that the astronomer owned.  They were not sure that the remains were his because his grave in the cathedral was unmarked.  But what I found even more remarkable about this story was the fact that researchers used the skull to create a computer-generated reconstruction of what he may have looked like – hence the title of this post.  The image looks a lot like paintings that exist of him.  There are many articles about this discovery; this one includes the reconstructed photo.

Does anyone else find it fascinating that a 16th Century skeleton can lead to DNA verification as well as an image of what he looked like?  One dissenting view, found on the blog to Discover magazine, wonders why it is considered acceptable to do this.  The article states:

While exercises like this are of historical interest, to me they’ve always raised the question as to when a set of remains becomes fair game for mucking about. If you were to dig up poor great aunt Edna, extract her skull, and sent it off to a lab in Sweden, you might be looked upon as being disrespectful or worse. But, digging about to find the remains of Copernicus is apparently completely OK, and was actually ordered by the local Catholic bishop. So when does this happen? Is there something like the copyright system where the right to be outraged by disturbance of a grave expires after a certain number of years? Is it more like radioactivity of the soul, where the connection to something sacred fades with an e-folding time?

I wasn’t quite as cynical when I heard the news, but the author does make a good point.  When is it acceptable to move/mess with someone’s remains?  But, I have to admit, all I could think about is what would happen if we just happened to have access to the bones of our ancestors…you know, those pesky ones that we don’t have any photos of?  It also made me think of these poor fellows:

Former residents of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria, Germany.

Former residents of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria, Germany.

These skulls were in an outdoor alcove of the cemetery church in Pfaffenhofen, called St. Andreas.  I’m still not sure why they’re on the shelf instead of in the ground!

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