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Digging up Brahe A search for clues to the famous astronomer's death - and life

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Author Topic: Digging up Brahe A search for clues to the famous astronomer's death - and life  (Read 272 times)
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« on: May 16, 2010, 04:44:59 am »

This, however, is not what is foremost in the mind of the scientist leading the November exhumation.

"I don't know if it's possible to answer the question of how he died," said Jens Vellev, a medieval and Renaissance archaeologist from the University of Aarhus in eastern Denmark. "I think not. I'm more interested in how he lived."

Vellev is a serious Brahe scholar for whom the exhumation is only one part of a much larger tapestry. He has spent a great deal of time on Hven, the Scandinavian island where Brahe had a grand residence and operated an observatory and paper mill before he accepted Rudolf's invitation to relocate to Prague in 1599. Ongoing excavation continues to reveal more about Brahe's life and work on Hven, where Vellev hopes one day to reconstruct the residence and observatory.

Next year, Vellev plans to publish a replica of Mechanica, the famous manual Brahe wrote explaining how the many astronomical instruments that he invented worked. At one point, Vellev ran down the trail of a copy that made its way to China via a Jesuit missionary, and got a close look at a number of Brahe's instruments that the Chinese had made, which are still in existence in Beijing.

But Vellev's focus at the moment is on securing all the necessary permits to open Brahe's grave, which is why he was in Prague last week. "We don't absolutely have final permission, but we are very close," he said in an interview at his Wenceslas Square hotel. Vellev also spent some time visiting the Nuclear Physics Institute, where some of the analyses of Brahe's bones and hair will be done.

Asked what he expects to find when he opens Brahe's grave, Vellev was candid: "We don't know." The 1901 exhumation was a rush job, he said. "They opened it to make sure he was there, took a quick look at the bones, and put them right back." Moreover, fragments of the coffin and swatches of clothing were apparently given away to Danish tourists passing through the church.
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