Finding famous historical figures…or not.

I was listening to the BBC History Magazine’s podcast this morning and as part of the news section they mentioned that some archaeologists are looking at excavating some graves in Spain to see if they can locate the remains of Miguel de Cervantes (author of Don Quixote).

This struck me as interesting on account of the ‘famous’ quote from Richard Buckley about not going after famous people in archaeology as it is incredibly unlikely that you will find them.   It also struck me as interesting as there have been news stories about the possible resting place of Vlad Tepes (the Impaler) in Naples (incredibly unlikely), and the location of the grave of Attila the Hun in Budapest (hoax, I will explain both below). I am also going to add in the quest for King Alfred here as it seems appropriate.

It may be that I am only just noticing that there has been an increase in searches for famous historical figures since the discovery of Richard III, but there do seem to be more of them.   Maybe they are getting more press coverage now.

Firstly King Alfred, he was moved a few times due to relocation of an abbey, due to the Dissolution of the Monasteries and then he was ‘lost’.   Not entirely unheard of, there are a number of English kings who are ‘lost’. People knew where they put them originally, then things changed, buildings changed and records did not necessarily get preserved. (Apparently they found Charles I tucked in with Henry VIII in St George’s Chapel, Windsor. Not sure how true this is either, but apparently they knew it was him as he had been decapitated but still had his beard!?!) Alfred was found by Time Team and academics at the University of Winchester. They searched Hyde Abbey, his last resting place, then realised that they had him already in a box from a previous dig. Their carbon dating can only tell them that the piece of pelvis they have could possibly be Alfred or his son. So no conclusive evidence that it is him, or his son, and not evidence that would stand up to academic rigor.

Then Attila the Hun, apparently his long lost tomb was found on the banks of the river in Budapest. There were grave goods and exciting finds that all led to it being him. All a hoax, but someone wanted to find a famous historical figure. I say a hoax, not entirely a hoax, just not Attila.   Apparently this is a Chinese warrior, which sounds fascinating as he is buried on the banks of the Danube.

Now there are two more searches being conducted, Cervantes and Vlad the Impaler. The Cervantes search sounds plausible; experts know that he was buried in a convent in Madrid. They just aren’t sure where in the convent. They are going to use ground penetrating radar to locate likely areas to search and plan to identify him by wounds they knew he suffered during his lifetime. The only link they are missing are possible DNA matches if they find viable remains, but not all searches are so lucky.  I am going to be quite interested in how this one pans out.
The search for the tomb of Vlad Tepes is a wonderful story if it wasn’t so unlikely. These experts have added Naples to the other possible places that the Impaler could found. Some legends say he is in the Snagov Monastery or Comana Monastery in Romania, but in one case the grave was found empty (fuelling the vampire legends), another says his head was taken Constantinople as he was defeated by the Ottomans. Indeed, Assassin’s Creed creators Ubisoft chose Constantinople as their chosen resting place for him.   The Naples link is a tenuous one. It is founded on the premise that Vlad the Impaler had a daughter, which is not documented, and that a tomb with some sphinxes, representing Thebes that could be translated to Tepes (!?!) and a dragon (linking to the Order of Dracul) could be his last resting place.   As it says in the article behind the link, sounds a bit like a Dan Brown plot to me.

I will be keeping an eye on these out of curiosity. I am also interested in other stories of famous historical figures being found. I am wondering if it is a fairly new occurrence, or something that has just been overlooked previously.

As I forgot last time, here is a picture of a cat fulfilling the internet’s need for cats.

fatty stairs


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