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DNA of Portuguese nobleman may prove that Christopher Columbus was Portuguese

It’s one of the many theories that have been bandied about for years, but now it is on course to being proved – either way.

Researchers have opened the tomb of a Portuguese nobleman to study the DNA of “the possible cousin of Christopher Columbus”.

António de Ataíde’s bones laid in a wooden casket in a crumbling church at Quinta de Santo António da Castanheira, near Vila Franca de Xira, 30 km from Lisbon, for around 450 years.

If it wasn’t for the thesis of university lecturer Fernando Branco they could well have stayed there. But Branco believes António to be the cousin of Pedro Ataíde whom he believes to have been “a bastard lord and corsair” who adopted the name Cristóvão Colon (the Spanish for Christopher Columbus) when he went to live in Castela.

As Expresso explains: “The famous navigator who discovered America in the service of the King and Queen of Spain would therefore not have been the son of merchants from Genoa, as official history relates, but Portuguese and noble”.

But to prove all this, investigators have to be able to compare DNA. Just unearthing a set of old bones on their own could prove nothing.

Thus, the operation that got underway in Quinta de Santo António de Castela recently will coordinate with the analysis of bones by geneticists in Santiago de Compostela, who have the DNA of Columbus’ son Hernando, sequenced over 10 years ago.

Branco explains, confirmation could take months. But we are effectively much closer this week in proving at least one theory about the world’s most famous explorer’s lineage.

Forensic anthropologist Eugenia Cunha was in charge of analysing António de Ataíde’s bones as they were removed from their casket, and she quickly identified similarities to references about Columbus.

For example, António de Ataíde had “many degenerative lesions in his bones”, while it is known that “Christopher Columbus also had many arthroses, and had to make some voyages almost always lying down due to pains in his bones”.

But that in itself was not enough to make connections.

While DNA sequencing now goes ahead, Expresso explains the impossibility of sequenceing Columbus’ own remains:

“He died in Valladolid in 1506 and was buried in Seville Cathedral. Later his body was removed to Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean, and then to Cuba, and then back to Seville”.

When the remains were returned to Seville they weighed “just 1oo grams”, says the paper.

Then came the news that Columbus’ bones were still in Santo Domingo but “until this day the authorities will not allow scientists to analyse them”.

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