2009 | 54 | 2 | 281-290
Article title

COMMENTARY ON THE IDENTIFICATION OF CRANIUM 13/05 FROM FROMBORK AS THE REMAINS OF NICOLAUS COPERNICUS (Komentarz do identyfikacji cranium 13/05 z Fromborka jako kosci Mikolaja Kopernika)

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In 2004-2005, a team directed by Jerzy Gassowski (Pultusk Academy of Humanities) carried out archaeological excavations inside the cathedral at Frombork. The objective was to locate the grave of Nicolaus Copernicus. In the course of the work archaeologists uncovered the remains of 13 individuals, of which one skeleton (13/05) was identified indisputably as the remains of Copernicus. The identification was based on the following four premises: 1. individual 13/05 was buried in a spot hypothetically identified by Jerzy Sikorski in 2006 as Copernicus' burial place; 2. cranium 13/05 belonged to a male who died at the age of about seventy; 3. the face approximation of individual 13/05 reconstructed from an incomplete skull resembled the countenance of Copernicus from a copy of a lost portrait; 4. the mtDNA haplotype of individual 13/05 was found to agree with that of two hairs found in a book which had once belonged to Copernicus. The first of these premises was verified negatively in the course of excavations as the only skeleton identified by an inscription on the coffin was that of the canon Andrzej Gasiorowski. As a matter of fact, Jerzy Sikorski in his model had located Gasiorowski's burial in an entirely different place. The excavators had estimated the age at death of individual 13/05 as about 60-70 years. The sex was determined by the amelogenine gene. Nowhere in the original excavation report or the anthropological report was there any information on the age determination methodology. Age estimates based on tooth wear, conducted by three different methods (D. Brothwell 1981; A.E.W. Miles 1962; A.R. Millard, G.L. Gowland 2002) on a published photo of the palate and dental arch of the maxilla, have indicated a younger age at death, much less than the 60-70 years suggested by the excavators; according to Brothwell's tables the individual can be placed in the 25-35 years range.The third premise for the identification of individual 13/05 as Nicolaus Copernicus, which is the resemblance between the face approximation reconstructed from the cranium and the so-called Torun portrait, is precluded as a reliable method of identification due to the arbitrariness of face approximation. Consequently, identification by comparison of face approximation from an incomplete skull with a copy of a lost portrait has to be even more arbitrary and unverifiable. Genetic examination demonstrated agreement between the mtDNA haplotype of individual 13/05 and that of two hairs found in a book that was once the property of Nicolaus Copernicus. But this is hardly conclusive evidence even for attributing the hair from the book and the teeth and the bones from Frombork to a single individual, because the same mtDNA haplotype can be carried by different individuals. It is impossible, contrary to what Jerzy Gassowski states, to identify the remains of individual 13/05 with Nicolaus Copernicus based on mtDNA. Of the four premises supporting the identification of individual 13/05 as Nicolaus Copernicus none has proved to be acceptable. Therefore, individual 13/05 remains an anonymous male who died in his middle age. Tables 2.
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  • Arkadiusz Soltysiak, Uniwersytet Warszawski, Instytut Archeologii, ul. Krakowskie Przedmiescie 26/28, 00-927 Warszawa, Poland
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