Scientists on Monday launched a radar-assisted hunt in a Madridconvent for the remains of Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, author of "DonQuixote".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 thebody of the greatest writer of the Spanish Golden Age.Under the gaze of photographers and television reporters, the radar revealedimages of what lies beneath the floor, the start of the first significant search for theremains of a writer who died in poverty on April 22, 1616, despite creating one ofthe landmarks of Western literature.Cervantes is recorded as having been buried a day after his death in the church ofthe convent, which has expanded over the centuries.
The whereabouts of the writer's remains, however, have been forgotten."Why search for the remains of Miguel de Cervantes? Because he is a figure ofworldwide importance. Because all humanity is in his debt. And because we have theopportunity and the technology capable of finding those remains, removing themfrom an anonymous grave and covering them with a memorial stone," saidFernando 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 puttinghis name on a stone to differentiate it from a nameless tomb."The electromagnetic waves reflected back to the radar machine can detect anydisturbance 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 roomsadjoining the church, the former cloister, which covers up to 220 square metres (720square feet) -- over a period of three days, he said.The results will be analysed over the following two-three weeks before a report issubmitted to Madrid's city hall, the historian said.De Pardo has put the estimated cost of the project at about 100,000 euros ($138,000)overall.If Cervantes's remains are identified there, it is planned that he remain buried in thechurch but with a plaque, he said.Francisco Etxeberria, a forensic anthropologist, said ahead of the search that theradar could reveal a burial but not the identity of the corpse, which would be thechallenge for archaeologists and forensic scientists.Etxeberria said the searchers would also scan parts of the walls and the sacristy, inthe 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 modernnovel for "The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha", published in twoparts in 1605 and 1615.The convent is still inhabited by nuns and has been designated part of Madrid'scultural 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 thePrince of Letters in Spain," Jose Francisco Garcia, Madrid city hall's director ofcultural heritage, said last month.