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New Television Show Researches the Biography of Christopher Columbus

by Steve Johnson
July 29, 2004

On August 1, 2004, the Discovery Channel will broadcast a new television documentary that studies the genealogy and biography of famed explorer Christopher Columbus.

The show entitled, "Christopher Columbus: Secrets From The Grave", uses scientific examination to answer the mystery surrounding his birth, life and his death. Was he Genoese Italian, or Catalan Spanish? Was he a Sephardic Jew avoiding the Spanish Inquisition?

biography of christopher columbus
The "Italian Christopher Columbus" painted by Tim Eger
picture of christopher columbus
The "Jewish Christopher Columbus" painted by Frank Ordaz
voyage of christopher columbus
The "Spanish Christopher Columbus" painted by Mike Benny

Common belief has its that Christopher Columbus was the son of a Genoese weaver who grew up and discovered America. But the makers of the documentary asked the question, "But what if that story was wrong?" Original records of Columbus' birth and childhood have been destroyed and his writings deliberately obscure the truth, leading historians to theorize that he was hiding something. Now, new scientific evidence is challenging the traditional biography of Columbus -- where he was born, where his remains rest, and the identity of his parents.

A press release issued by the show's producers says:

"Where was Columbus really from? Why did he keep his origins shrouded in mystery? Was he really Italian? Could he have been a pirate, a Jew fleeing from the Inquisition, or the illegitimate son of a Spanish aristocrat? Now, using cutting-edge technology, one historian and a team of scientists are mounting a new effort to unmask the admiral's true identity, and the fate of his remains. Historical, lexicographic and anthropological testing may support the theory that Columbus was not from Genoa Italy, and that he could have been born in Catalonia, Spain. To attempt to answer these intriguing questions, COLUMBUS: SECRETS FROM THE GRAVE travels to Seville, where reporters and citizens descend on the Cathedral to watch as Anunciada Colon, a direct descendent of Columbus, hands over the keys to the chest that is reported to hold his bones.

Columbus' remains, along with those of his brother Diego and son Hernando, are exhumed for a series of complex DNA tests. This first-ever testing of his remains has galvanized the Spanish people, who believe that Christopher Columbus was Spanish, and antagonized some Italians who have for centuries claimed Columbus as their own with great pride.

In this special, Professor Charles Merrill, who has studied Columbus for years, and a group of scientists use different methods to shed some light on Columbus' past. To test his nationality and his level of education, experts analyze Columbus' writings to reveal that he never used Italian, even in casual correspondence, and that he was actually very well rducated. This indicates claims that Columbus was the son of a modest Genoese weaver might have been made from whole cloth.

Like the mystery of his life, the fate of his remains is also shrouded in mystery. The Spanish claim to have his remains, but so does the Dominican Republic. His bones were moved so many times they may have been inadvertently misplaced along the way. To confirm which, if any of the remains in question actually belonged to Christopher Columbus, Spanish scientist Dr. Antonio Lorente of the University of Granada attempts to match the most likely set of remains to the known remains of Columbus' brother Diego and son Hernando. Once the results prove a genetic link, the remains will be tested to add evidence to theories about his heritage."

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