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Radars used to hunt for remains of Don Quixote author

Miguel de Cervantes died in poverty on 22 April, 1616.

Lee J Cobb, playing Don Quixote on a CBS TV show in 1959.
Lee J Cobb, playing Don Quixote on a CBS TV show in 1959.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

SCIENTISTS HAVE TODAY launched a radar-assisted hunt in a Madrid convent for the remains of Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote.

Two technicians in grey vests paced around a church altar in central Madrid’s red-brick Convent of Trinitarians, sweeping a ground-penetrating radar in search of the body of the greatest writer of the Spanish Golden Age.

Under the gaze of photographers and television reporters, the radar revealed images of what lies beneath the floor, the start of the first significant search for the remains of a writer who died in poverty on 22 April, 1616, despite creating one of the landmarks of Western literature.

Cervantes is recorded as having been buried a day after his death in the church of the convent, which has expanded over the centuries.

The whereabouts of the writer’s remains, however, have been forgotten.

miguel A portrait of Miguel de Cervantes. Source: Wikimedia Commons

“Why search for the remains of Miguel de Cervantes? Because he is a figure of worldwide importance. Because all humanity is in his debt. And because we have the opportunity and the technology capable of finding those remains, removing them from an anonymous grave and covering them with a memorial stone,” said Fernando de Pardo, the historian in charge of the project.

He has given us so much, we are going to try at least to do something by putting his name on a stone to differentiate it from a nameless tomb.

The electromagnetic waves reflected back to the radar machine can detect any disturbance in the ground, such as from a burial, De Pardo explained.

In the first phase of the project, the scientists will sweep the target area – two rooms adjoining the church, the former cloister, which covers up to 220 square metres – over a period of three days, he said.

The results will be analysed over the following two-three weeks before a report is submitted to Madrid’s city hall, the historian said.

De Pardo has put the estimated cost of the project at about €100,000 overall.

If Cervantes’s remains are identified there, it is planned that he remain buried in the church but with a plaque, he said.

Francisco Etxeberria, a forensic anthropologist, said ahead of the search that the radar could reveal a burial but not the identity of the corpse, which would be the challenge for archaeologists and forensic scientists.

Spain Snowfall Statues of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza at Plaza de Espana in Madrid. Source: Victor R Caivano/AP/Press Association Images

Etxeberria said the searchers would also scan parts of the walls and the sacristy, in the floor of which there is a padlocked door thought to lead down to a crypt.

Born near Madrid in 1547, Cervantes has been dubbed the father of the modern novel for The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, published in two parts in 1605 and 1615.

The convent is still inhabited by nuns and has been designated part of Madrid’s cultural heritage since 1921, complicating any effort to excavate in blind pursuit of Cervantes’ remains.

“Finding the tomb of Cervantes would mean paying a very important debt to the Prince of Letters in Spain,” Jose Francisco Garcia, Madrid city hall’s director of cultural heritage, said last month.

© AFP 2014.

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