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DNA-analysis of hair in project aiming at identification of Copernicus

23 November 2008

In a collaborative project between Swedish and Polish scientists large efforts has been made in a project to identify the remains of Nicolaus Copernicus.

The research team consists of archaeologists, anthropologists
and geneticists. At Uppsala university a DNA analysis been performed of some shed hairs found in a book owned by Copernicus and now kept in Museum Gustavianum.

The Uppsala team has also done a confirmation of a test of a tooth as well as bone tissue from the putative remains of Copernicus found under the cathedral in Frombork. The data from the Institute of Forensic Research in Krakow and the Uppsala laboratory were identical.

The analysis of several hairs showed an interpretable profile for four of the hairs. Of these, two of the hairs have the same profile as the remains of Copernicus.

"Although these results points towards the materials being
from the same individual, there is a probability of random match", says Marie Allen, researcher at Uppsala University.

As the DNA material in this case is limited and also degraded to some extent, the evidentiary value is low. As the material is limited an mtDNA test has been performed. The result of this test is often used in criminal investigations, but as circumstantial evidence.

"Thus, the analysis of the hairs should be looked at and evaluated in the light of and together with the information from other disciplines as the archaeological, anthropological and facial reconstruction data", says Marie Allen.