Forensic experts began excavating graves and examining bones yesterday in a tiny chapel in Madrid, hoping to solve the centuries-old mystery of exactly where the great Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes was laid to rest. The author of Don Quixote was buried in 1616 at the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians in Madrid's historic Barrio de las Letras, or Literary Quarter, but the exact whereabouts of his grave within the convent chapel are unknown. A team of archaeologists and anthropologists decided to start excavations at the site after identifying what they believe are three unrecorded and unidentified graves in the chapel's crypt.
Yesterday, the chapel crypt had the air of a modern forensic laboratory transported to a medieval location, with more than 20 experts at work with white lights under a vaulted ceiling. Some experts were examining bones that had been extracted from a niche and carefully laid out on a table, while another group opened a grave beneath the whitewashed crypt's old terracotta tiled floor. If remains are found "that fulfill the characteristics we are looking for," says a forensic specialist, experts will compare the DNA with the remains of Cervantes' sister, Luisa, who was buried in a convent near Madrid in 1623. If they don't find Cervantes' remains in the places so far identified, there are four other possible locations at the convent they could try next, the project's leader says. (Read more Miguel de Cervantes stories.)