Experts examine bones as Spain hunts for Cervantes' remains

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Experts examine bones as Spain hunts for Cervantes' remains
A team of archaeologists and anthropologists take notes after starting the excavation work after identifying three unrecorded and unidentified graves in the chapel’s crypt of the closed order Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians in Madrid's historic Barrio de las Letras, or Literary Quarter, Spain, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015. Experts searching for the remains of Miguel de Cervantes hope they may be entering the final phase of their nine-month quest to solve the mystery of where the great Spanish writer was laid to rest. The 'Don Quixote' author was buried in 1616 at the Convent but the exact whereabouts of his grave in the tiny convent chapel are unknown. The bones found will be exhumed and analyze, after that, the experts will try to identify the bones using DNA profiling. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
A team of archaeologists and anthropologists take notes after starting the excavation work after identifying three unrecorded and unidentified graves in the chapel’s crypt of the closed order Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians in Madrid's historic Barrio de las Letras, or Literary Quarter, Spain, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015. Experts searching for the remains of Miguel de Cervantes hope they may be entering the final phase of their nine-month quest to solve the mystery of where the great Spanish writer was laid to rest. The 'Don Quixote' author was buried in 1616 at the Convent but the exact whereabouts of his grave in the tiny convent chapel are unknown. The bones found will be exhumed and analyze, after that, the experts will try to identify the bones using DNA profiling. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
A team of archaeologists and anthropologists start the excavation work after identifying three unrecorded and unidentified graves in the chapel’s crypt of the closed order Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians in Madrid's historic Barrio de las Letras, or Literary Quarter, Spain, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015. Experts searching for the remains of Miguel de Cervantes hope they may be entering the final phase of their nine-month quest to solve the mystery of where the great Spanish writer was laid to rest. The 'Don Quixote' author was buried in 1616 at the Convent but the exact whereabouts of his grave in the tiny convent chapel are unknown. The bones found will be exhumed and analyze, after that, the experts will try to identify the bones using DNA profiling. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 28: People walk next to the Convento de las Trinitarias Descalzas on April 28, 2014 in Madrid, Spain. The author of 'Don Quijote de la Mancha' Miguel de Cervantes was born in 1547 and died in 1616. Investigators today began their search for Cervantes' burial site at 'Las Trinitarias Delcalzas' convent using GPRS and infrared technology. (Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - MAY 05: Portrait of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (Alcala de Henares, 1547-Madrid, 1616), Spanish novelist, playwright and poet, illustration. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 28: Operators search for the remains of Miguel de Cervantes, considered to be Spains greatest writer at the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians in Madrid, Spain, Monday, April 28, 2014. The team led by Historian Fernando de Prado, researcher Luis Avial and an anthropologist Francisco Etxeberria aims to find the remnants of Cervantes by 2016, the 400th anniversary of his death. (Photo by Evrim Aydin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 28: Two operators search for the remains of Miguel de Cervantes, considered to be Spains greatest writer at the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians in Madrid, Spain, Monday, April 28, 2014. The team led by Historian Fernando de Prado, researcher Luis Avial and an anthropologist Francisco Etxeberria aims to find the remnants of Cervantes by 2016, the 400th anniversary of his death. (Photo by Evrim Aydin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 28: Researchers search for the remains of writer Miguel de Cervantes' at Convento de las Trinitarias Descalzas on April 28, 2014 in Madrid, Spain. A plaque on the wall reads 'In this monastery lies Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, his wife Mrs Catalina de Salazar and Lope de Vega's daughter Sor Marcela de San Felix'. The author of 'Don Quijote de la Mancha' Miguel de Cervantes was born in 1547 and died in 1616. Investigators today began their search for Cervantes' burial site at 'Las Trinitarias Delcalzas' convent using GPR and infrared technology. (Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)
Two technicians sweep a ground-penetrating radar in the Convent of Trinitarians, to search for the remains of Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes four centuries after his death, in the centre of Madrid on April 28, 2014. Cervantes, author of the emblematic Don Quixote of la Mancha is recorded as having been buried a day after his death in the church of the convent, which has expanded over the centuries. AFP PHOTO/ GERARD JULIEN (Photo credit should read GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 28: A plaque on the wall reads 'In this monastery lies Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, his wife Mrs Catalina de Salazar and Lope de Vega's daughter Sor Marcela de San Felix', as researchers (not in picture) search for the remains of writer Miguel de Cervantes' at Convento de las Trinitarias Descalzas on April 28, 2014 in Madrid, Spain. The author of 'Don Quijote de la Mancha' Miguel de Cervantes was born in 1547 and died in 1616. Investigators today began their search for Cervantes' burial site at 'Las Trinitarias Delcalzas' convent using GPR and infrared technology. (Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 28: Researchers search for the remains of writer Miguel de Cervantes' at Convento de las Trinitarias Descalzas on April 28, 2014 in Madrid, Spain. The author of 'Don Quijote de la Mancha' Miguel de Cervantes was born in 1547 and died in 1616. Investigators today began their search for Cervantes' burial site at 'Las Trinitarias Delcalzas' convent using GPR and infrared technology. (Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 28: Two operators search for the remains of Miguel de Cervantes, considered to be Spains greatest writer at the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians in Madrid, Spain, Monday, April 28, 2014. The team led by Historian Fernando de Prado, researcher Luis Avial and an anthropologist Francisco Etxeberria aims to find the remnants of Cervantes by 2016, the 400th anniversary of his death. (Photo by Evrim Aydin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 28: Operators search for the remains of Miguel de Cervantes, considered to be Spains greatest writer at the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians in Madrid, Spain, Monday, April 28, 2014. The team led by Historian Fernando de Prado, researcher Luis Avial and an anthropologist Francisco Etxeberria aims to find the remnants of Cervantes by 2016, the 400th anniversary of his death. (Photo by Evrim Aydin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 28: People walk their dog next to the Convento de las Trinitarias Descalzas on April 28, 2014 in Madrid, Spain. The author of 'Don Quijote de la Mancha' Miguel de Cervantes was born in 1547 and died in 1616. Investigators today began their search for Cervantes' burial site at 'Las Trinitarias Delcalzas' convent using GPRS and infrared technology. (Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)
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MADRID (AP) -- Experts searching for the remains of Miguel de Cervantes have started what they hope will be the final phase of their nine-month quest to solve the mystery of where the great Spanish writer 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 tiny 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. Those bones were being exhumed and analyzed.

Cervantes is a towering figure in Spanish culture. His novel - "The Adventures of the Ingenious Nobleman Don Quixote of La Mancha" - changed Spanish literature. His wife, Catalina Salazar, was also buried at the convent, although the location her grave also remains a mystery.

The chapel crypt on Saturday 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.

By midmorning, some experts at the underground site were examining bones that had been extracted from a niche and carefully laid out on a table. Another group of five white-clad experts painstakingly opened a grave beneath the whitewashed crypt's old terracotta tiled floor.

Close to the crypt's entrance, two scientists studied images obtained from within another wall niche by using an endoscope camera carefully inserted through a tiny hole.

Elsewhere, a team assembled a geo-radar device mounted on wheels to probe other possible underground locations.

"Were we to find remains that fulfill the characteristics we are looking for, we could possibly pass to a next stage. That would be to compare DNA similarities with his sister, but that is a very complex step," said Francisco Etxeberria, a forensic medicine specialist from the University of the Basque Country.

The author's sister, Luisa de Cervantes, was buried in a convent in Alcala de Henares, 30 kilometers (19 miles) east of Madrid, where she was interred in 1623.

Almudena Garcia Rubio, who is leading the Cervantes project, said Friday 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.

Evidence marking the location of Cervantes' grave is believed to have been lost during an enlargement of the church after his death. Etxeberria said, back in Cervantes' day, graves were not often marked with long-lasting memorials such as carved headstones.

Before settling down to work, the forensic team had to shift piles of old books and bookcases from the space, which had previously been rented out to a publishing company.

The first phase of the excavation, costing some 50,000 euros ($56,000), is expected to last two weeks.

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