How modern science helped solve a centuries-old mystery

ACU historian Associate Professor Darius von Guttner has explored the role of modern forensic science in the search for the remains of Copernicus, the 16th century “father of astronomy”.

Copernicus was a polymath – an engineer, author, economic theorist and medical doctor who first explained that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

After his death in 1543 in Frombork, Poland, Copernicus was buried in the local cathedral. Over the subsequent centuries, the location of his grave was lost to history.

There had been several unsuccessful attempts to locate Copernicus’s remains, dating as far back as the 16th and 17th centuries.

Another failed attempt was made by the French emperor Napoleon after the 1807 Battle of Eylau.

In 2005, a group of Polish archaeologists took up the search – aided by a unlikely find. A single hair found in one of his astronomical reference books provided DNA evidence that allowed the multidisciplinary team of scientists, archaeologists and historians to track down his remains.

"This monumental find not only sheds light on the final resting place of one of the most influential figures in the history of science, but also showcases the depth and sophistication of modern scientific methods in corroborating historical data," Associate Professor von Guttner said.

Associate Professor Darius von Guttner is an historian in ACU’s Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences.

Read the article originally published in The Conversation.

Learn more about the work of ACU historians in the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences.

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