Update: Copernicus had blue eyes

I posted a while back about the recent genetic tests comparing hair found in a book Copernicus owned with the remains thought to be his.

That was a big deal because even though people know what church he was buried in, the actual location was unknown, so the DNA confirmed that the excavated remains were his.

Now more details about the genetic analysis have been released and it turns out that Copernicus looked even more like James Cromwell than we realized.

The genetic analysis also found a variation in a gene called HERC2, which is usually found in people with blue eyes and is very common in Northern Europe.

Recent studies have shown that this HERC2 variant is also associated with lighter hair color and lighter skin.

“Indeed, Copernicus most probably had blue eyes and should also have lighter skin and hair color,” Wojciech Branicki, at the Institute of Forensic Research in Krakow, Poland, told Discovery News.

The finding is rather unexpected, since the great astronomer is usually portrayed with dark eyes.

Why would he have been so portrayed? The researchers point to a common contemporary portraiture technique called chalcography, which is an engraving on copper or brass. It didn’t render color accurately, so artists might have repeated an original chalcography error in their potraits of Copernicus.

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2 Comments »

Comment by AC
2009-08-13 14:58:28

This article is completely misquoting the results of the genetic analyses;
to begin with the analyses just talks about the correlation between C/C genotype and the blue eyes, but makes no mention about the hair and skin colour

Pls see the link here
http://www.portalwiedzy.pan.pl/images/stories/pliki/badania_wyniki/2009/07/Bogdanowicz_et_al_PNAS_0901848106.pdf

In fact there is nothing appaling that Copernicus had blue eyes because to tell the truth the colour of the eyes are difficult to determine in the early portraits : they look “dark” at a first glance but when look more carefully the colour is undeterminable. On the contrary there is no reason to doubt that his hair was dark as portrayed in the life portrait of Torun; this same brunet coloration appears in the copy of a today lost self-portrait at the Astronomical clock of the cathedral of Strasbourg, France

Comment by livius drusus
2009-08-20 10:31:36

Thank you kindly for your analysis. I’m afraid scientific studies are often misconstrued in the popular press. I sometimes think the headline comes first, then they skim the documentation to justify it.

 
 
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