November 5, 2005
Copernicus Remains Believed Found in Poland
WARSAW -- Polish archaeologists are all but certain they have located the skeletal remains of Nicholas Copernicus, the 16th-century cleric whose heliocentric theory was to revolutionize astronomy.
Professor Jerzy Gassowski, whose team of archaeologists had been searching for the astronomer's final resting place for over a year, told a symposium on Thursday he believed the remains found beneath an altar of medieval Frombork Cathedral on Poland's Baltic coast were those of Copernicus.
The age of the skull and bones, the place of burial reserved for canons like Copernicus, as well as certain facial features prompted Gassowski to declare he was "97 percent certain these are Copernicus' remains, but only DNA testing could fully authenticate the find."
A computer reconstruction of the skull carried out in cooperation with police forensic experts showed the head of a grey-haired man of 70, the age Copernicus died. It matched the scar above the left eye and broken nose seen in the astronomer's contemporary portraits.
A Catholic priest, he left no known descendants, but a search for the burial sites of his relatives, including his uncle Lukasz Watzenrode, may provide the necessary DNA samples.
In his treatise "On the Revolution of Celestial Bodies," Copernicus asserted that the earth and the other planets revolved around the sun, toppling the then widespread belief that the world was the center of the universe.
The astronomer did not announce his heliocentric theory during his lifetime for fear of antagonizing his Church.