The rightful place of the man who put the Earth in its rightful place has now been confirmed. New DNA analysis confirms that the remains of a 70-year old man found in Frombork Cathedral in Northern Poland are those of Nicolas Copernicus. Discovered three years ago, the remains allowed archaeologists produce a facial reconstruction from the skull, creating a likeness to portraits of Copernicus. But though the placement of the grave and the age of the body corresponded to the details of Copernicus’ death, scientists couldn’t be sure that the remains were actually those of Copernicus himself.
Copernicus – often known as the “father of modern astronomy” – formulated a predictive model of the Solar System that put the Sun at the center, rather than the Earth, which was believed to be the center of the Universe up until the end 16th century. He wasn’t the first to put forward the idea of heliocentrism, though; that distinction belongs to Aristarchus of the Greek island Samos, who lived in the 3rd century BC.
Copernicus, born in 1473 in Poland, used his own observations to formulate a heliocentric model of the Solar System, which he presented in his book, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (which, translated from Latin, means “On the Revolutions of Celestial Spheres”). Copernicus didn’t publish the book until 1543, the year of his death, out of fear of religious persecution. His model of the Solar System influenced Kepler to formulate his laws of planetary motion, and Galileo suffered much persecution for insisting that Copernicus was right.
The DNA analysis of two strands of hair from a book that Copernicus is known to have owned – Calendarium Romanum Magnum, by Johannes Stoeffler – match the DNA of a tooth and femur bone taken from the remains at Frombork. The book, along with a number of Copernicus’ other tomes, was taken to Sweden during the 17th century Polish-Swedish wars, and is now located at Uppsala University.
Jerzy Gasowski of the Pultusk School of Humanities in Poland was the first to find the remains in 2005, using radar to search underneath the floor of the cathedral where Copernicus was thought to have been entombed. A skull sent for forensic analysis generated the image above, but there was no DNA evidence to corroborate the find until now.