Swedish DNA tests confirm remains of Copernicus

Strands of hair found in a book at Uppsala University have been used to confirm that a skeleton discovered in Poland is that of 16th century astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus.

Swedish DNA tests confirm remains of Copernicus

Jerzy Gassowski, head of the Archaeology and Anthropology Institute in Pultusk in central Poland, confirmed the news at a press conference on Thursday.

Speculation has long been rife that Copernicus was buried at Frombork Cathedral in northern Poland, and in 2005 Polish archaeologists uncovered remains that appeared to match the description of the astronomer.

According to records from the time, Copernicus died in 1543, aged 70.

However, the identity of the skeleton could not be affirmed until conclusive DNA investigations had been carried out.

“There has been a project working on Copernicus for some time,” explains Marie Allen, Associate Professor at the Genetics and Pathology department at Uppsala University, and project manager for the DNA testing carried out in Sweden.

“They needed to confirm that the body was Copernicus’ with DNA results. The research team in Cracow had even been looking for living relatives of Copernicus, whose DNA might have been matched to the remains,” Allen told The Local.

According to Allen, a few strands of hair were found in a book which had belonged to Copernicus. The text was held at the University of Uppsala as part of their extensive collection of texts by the astronomer.

“We tested pieces of bone and tooth from the site in Poland with the hair found at Uppsala. The pieces were tested twice, once in Sweden and once in Poland to ensure the accuracy of the results. The data collected confirmed that the skeleton found in 2005 is that of Copernicus,” said Allen.

Born in 1473 in Torun, Poland, Copernicus was the first astronomer to clearly create a theory that the sun, rather than the Earth, is the centre of the Solar System.