4. COPERNICUS VS. THE CATHEDRAL FLOOR
Sometimes it's not about finding out what killed a famous person--sometimes researchers just want to find them. Nicolaus Copernicus avoided fame (and perhaps religious persecution) by waiting to publish his earth-moving treatise De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium
(On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres
) until the year of his death, 1543. He ended up in an unmarked grave under a cathedral floor in Frombork, Poland.
That didn't stop archaeologists armed with radar; in 2005 they found the remains of a 60- to 70-year-old man among the cathedral's many tombs. They promptly dug him up. A Polish forensic lab then used the skull to draw a facial reconstruction, and the face in the resulting picture
looked much like the Copernicus seen in period paintings. More certain evidence came in 2008, after researchers matched DNA from a femur and tooth with that from a hair tucked into one of Copernicus's books. This past spring Copernicus's remains were packed into an elegant coffin and he lay in state in an archbishop's castle (pictured). Then his body was returned
to the Frombork cathedral floor--but now the spot is marked with a black tombstone
, complete with a depiction of six planets orbiting a golden sun.