MADRID (AFP) – Researchers looking for the remains of Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes at a Madrid church said Friday war injuries suffered by the author of “Don Quixote” will hold the key to identifying him.
Scientists used infrared cameras, 3-D scanners and a ground-penetrating radar last year to pinpoint the five areas at the church of the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians where human remains – possibly including those of Cervantes – are thought to lie.
They will return on Saturday to begin a two-week search for bones at the church where Cervantes is recorded as having been buried a day after his death on April 22, 1616 – the same week that William Shakespeare died.
“We are looking for a skeleton of a male, of around 70 years, that has six teeth or less in the mouth and with injuries in the forearm and the left hand,” forensic anthropologist Francisco Etxeberria who is leading the search told a news conference.
“These have been described, not as an amputation, but as a non-functioning arm because of those injuries.
“It is not impossible that we find small metal fragments embedded in the bones,” he added.
Cervantes received three musket shots, two in the chest and one in his left hand, during a 1571 naval conflict, the Battle of Lepanto, in which the Holy League led by Spain defeated the Ottoman fleet.
Though Cervantes was referred to as “El Manco de Lepanto”, or “The One-armed Man of Lepanto”, he did not have his arm amputated because of the shooting, though he lost use of it.
He died a poor man but had strong links with the Madrid church’s Trinitarian religious order which negotiated his release and helped pay a ransom after he was captured by pirates.
The church has been expanded over the centuries, however, and the exact whereabouts of the writer’s remains have been forgotten.
Etxeberria’s team launched what is the first significant search for the remains of the greatest writer of the Spanish Golden Age at the end in April 2014.
During the first phase of the search researchers identified 33 alcoves where bones could be stored and four tombs.
In the second phase which gets underway at the weekend they will remove the layer of plaster which covers the wall with the alcoves to see if there are funerary inscriptions.
Alcoves without inscriptions will be probed with an endoscopic camera and if any remains are found that spark the interest of researchers, they will be removed and analysed in a laboratory set up in the crypt.