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The tomb of the scientist Nicolaus Copernicus has puzzled archaeologists for five centuries

The tomb of Nicolaus Copernicus is one of the greatest mysteries in archaeology. From the 16th century to modern times, numerous studies involving archaeologists, historians, and forensic scientists have been unable to fully unravel this enigma. Nicolaus Copernicus, the renowned astronomer who revolutionized our understanding of the universe, remains a focal point of curiosity and research. Join us as we explore the relentless efforts to uncover the truth about his final resting place.

Groundbreaking Scientific Legacy

Introduction to Nicolaus Copernicus

Scientist Nicolaus Copernicus – Painting: Jan Matejko.

Nicolaus Copernicus was a multifaceted genius known for his contributions as an astronomer, mathematician, physician, engineer, author, and economic theorist. Born in Poland, his work laid the foundation for modern astronomy and challenged the prevailing beliefs of his time.

The Publication of “De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium”

In 1534, near the end of his life, Copernicus published his seminal work, “De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium.” This groundbreaking book presented a heliocentric model of the universe, arguing that the Earth was just one of several planets orbiting the Sun. His sharp arguments and mathematical proofs provided the first comprehensive evidence supporting this revolutionary idea.

In the last days of his life – in 1534 – Copernicus promptly published the shocking book De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium.

Impact of the Heliocentric Theory

Copernicus’s heliocentric theory directly contradicted the long-held belief that the Earth was the center of the universe, with all celestial bodies revolving around it. This new model not only redefined humanity’s place in the cosmos but also laid the groundwork for future astronomical discoveries.

Historical Resistance and Endorsement

Despite its scientific merit, Copernicus’s theory faced significant opposition. A century after his death, on March 12, 1663, the famous Italian philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer Galileo Galilei was brought before the Roman Inquisition for his support of the heliocentric model. This event highlighted the intense resistance Copernicus’s ideas encountered from established authorities.

Copernicus’s discovery as well as Galileo’s follow-up brought astronomy to a new page.

Long-lasting Influence on Astronomy

Despite these challenges, Copernicus’s insights, along with the subsequent advocacy by Galileo, ushered in a new era in astronomy. Their combined efforts helped transform the field and opened the door to modern astronomical research and understanding.

The “Hopeless” Search

Hypothesis About the Burial Site

The tomb of Nicolaus Copernicus has remained a significant mystery for centuries. It is believed that he was buried in the ancient Frombork Cathedral in Poland. However, the complexity lies in the fact that the cathedral houses around 100 graves, most of which are unmarked, making it challenging to identify his exact resting place.

Main hall of Frombork Church – Photo: THE CONVERSATION

Search Efforts from the 16th to 17th Century

From the 16th to 17th centuries, many attempts were made to locate Copernicus’s tomb. One notable but unsuccessful effort was made by French Emperor Napoleon. Following the famous Battle of Eylau in 1807, Napoleon, who revered Copernicus and hailed him as a great scientist, mathematician, and astronomer, tried to find his resting place but failed.

21st Century and New Efforts

Napoleon worshiped Copernicus, praising him as a great scientist, mathematician, and astronomer.

In the 21st century, archaeologists continued to struggle in their search. In 2005, a team of Polish scientists made another effort based on historian Jerzy Sikorski’s claim that Copernicus was buried near the Holy Cross Altar (formerly the St. Waclaw Altar), as he had held a position in this church. However, they discovered 13 sets of remains at the altar, with no definitive way to identify which belonged to Copernicus.

Forensic science speaks out

Analysis of remains

The analysis of 13 sets of remains at Frombork Cathedral revealed one set belonging to a male approximately 60-70 years old, which best matched the description of the scientist Copernicus.

The skull was used as a basis for facial reconstruction.

Simultaneously, bone morphology and DNA analyses were also conducted. However, a major difficulty was identifying reference materials for comparison. No known graves of the Polish scientist’s relatives have ever been found.

Skull of Corpenicus – Photo: THE CONVERSATION

DNA analysis

Simultaneously, bone morphology and DNA analyses were also conducted. However, a major difficulty was identifying reference materials for comparison. No known graves of the Polish scientist’s relatives have ever been found.

In 2006, a reference material for DNA comparison emerged. It was an astronomy book once used by Copernicus, containing hair on some of its pages.

The book had been kept in Sweden since the 17th century, following an invasion of Poland by Swedish forces. It is now housed in the Gustavianum Museum at Uppsala University.

The temporary tomb was only declared “possibly” the resting place of the famous scientist.

Unexpected good news arrived: mitochondrial DNA from the teeth and bones of the unidentified remains matched the hair sample.

However, since the hair in the book was only indirect evidence (it could not be 100% certain it was Copernicus’s hair), the tomb was tentatively declared “possibly” the resting place of the renowned scientist.

Nevertheless, this still provided a valuable answer after a 500-year-long search.

The five-century search for Nicolaus Copernicus’s tomb, involving extensive efforts from archaeologists, historians, and forensic scientists, has yielded significant progress. The discovery of remains matching his description, supported by DNA evidence from a book he used, offers a tentative but valuable conclusion. This ongoing quest honors Copernicus’s legacy and exemplifies the relentless pursuit of knowledge that drives scientific inquiry.