International man of mystery
Embarking on whole new world of forensics, scientists trace claims of Columbus’ origin across much of Europe
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THE WASHINGTON POST
May 16, 2006
He gives new meaning to the phrase world-class celebrity, but like Garbo, Christopher Columbus had little interest in talking about himself and dismissed queries about his origins with a rhetorical shrug: Vine de nada – I came from nothing. For centuries, scholars have wondered about this enigmatic mariner whose compulsion to travel east by traveling west altered the course of Western civilization.
He may have been born in Genoa, but he wrote in indifferent Latin or in good Spanish – never in Italian. He had French connections, married a Portuguese woman, may have been Jewish, may have lived in Catalonia and died May 20, 500 years ago this week, in the Spanish city of Valladolid.
To commemorate this event, researchers led by Spanish forensic pathologist Josi Antonio Lorente Acosta are comparing the DNA of Columbus out-of-wedlock son, Fernando, with DNA from hundreds of possible Columbus descendants in at least three countries.
The goal is to determine whether Columbus, as traditionalists hold, was the son of Genoese wool weaver Domenico Colombo or a Spaniard named Colon; or a Catalan Colom, from Barcelona; or a French Coulom or Colomb; or perhaps Corsican or Mallorcan.
Well get something, but it will be complicated, Lorente said in an interview from his University of Granada office.
The trick is to differentiate between the Columbuses from different places – and theres no guarantee. Lorentes original idea was to examine purported Columbus remains in Seville, Spain, and at the Faro, a Colon monument in the Dominican Republic, to find where he was actually buried.
His bones were allegedly taken from Santo Domingo in the late 18th century and sent to Seville, but Dominican workmen later found a lead box in the Santo Domingo cathedral with Columbus name on it.
Either he never went to Seville, or his bones are in both places, or the Dominican box holds somebody elses remains. Lorente sought to compare DNA in both places with DNA from Fernando and Columbus brother Diego.
But there were not enough Seville remains to provide DNA samples, and the Dominican government refused to let the team examine the bones there, telling Lorente he was authorized to evaluate the state of preservation of the admirals remains, but not take samples.
In the Columbus wars, those who hold the upper hand never relinquish it. Why would the Dominican Republic allow a Spaniard to compare their Columbus remains with Spains?
People want him to be theirs, said Peter Dixon, a Columbus scholar. If youre Spanish, you want him to be in Spain. If youre Italian, you want him to be Italian.
Theories abound on Christopher Columbus birthplace. Here are some.
Columbus married a Portuguese noblewoman and had a son, Diego. Some Portuguese historians go further, saying he named the island of Cuba after the Portuguese town where he was born.
Cristóbal Colón, as hes known here, journeyed to America with Spanish sponsors and three Spanish ships. He and his Spanish mistress had a son, Fernando. Hes supposedly buried here. Yet, some say his last name is Catalonian, making him Cristòfor Colom.
Speculation is that Frenchmen with the names Colomb or Coulom may be descendants. And if he was Corsican, some say he hid his roots because of the islands seedy reputation at the time.
The Italians have no doubt: He is a son of Italy, or, specifically, son of a Genoa wool weaver. Family statements and a will seem to back this, but doubts still linger. Another curiosity: He wrote in Spanish, never Italian.
But wait, the New World stakes a claim to Columbus too. Dominicans say his remains were found in a cathedral in the nations capital, Santo Domingo.
SOURCE: EXPLORERS AND DISCOVERIES OF THE WORLD; ANSWERS.COM; THE LAST VOYAGE OF COLUMBUS