Leonardo da Vinci’s hair allegedly found

administrator Leonardo da Vinci was both an inventor and artist during the course of its Renaissance. ( Janaka Dharmasena/ Shutterstock)

A pair of Italian scientists said they’ve detected a piece of “hairs-breadth” that may have belonged to Leonardo da Vinci, and they want to use DNA experimenting to confirm whether it came from the famous Renaissance inventor and artist.

But other experts in all things Leonardo and DNA are skeptical. Leonardo’s tomb was destroyed during the French Revolution, so there are no known bones to compare the mane against , nor are there living descendants whose genes are suitable for the task.

“The silly season for Leonardo never closes, ” said Martin Kemp, an emeritus prof of its own history of artwork at the University of Oxford and an expert on Leonardo’s life.[ 5 Things You Possibly Didn’t Know About Leonardo da Vinci]

A lock of hair

Leonardo died on May 2, 1519. Both his home country, Italy, and France, where he died, are hosting phenomena to celebrate the artist and discoverer on the 500 th anniversary of his death. According to The Guardian, a new lock of hair claimed to be from Leonardo will go on display May 2 at the Ideale Leonardo da Vinci museum in Vinci, Italy, the town where he was born, in 1452.

The hair was found in a private accumulation in the United States, according to Alessandro Vezzosi, the museum’s administrator, and Agnese Sabato, the president of the Leonardo da Vinci Heritage Foundation, who announced plans to DNA test the hair this week. It is labelled, “les cheveux de Leonardo da Vinci.”( “Les cheveux” is French for “the hair.”)

But there is likely no reliable space to connect the fuzz genetically to Leonardo, said Kevin Schurer, a historian and genealogist at the University of Leicester in England. Schurer worked on development projects of reconstructing Richard III ‘s family line and acquiring living progenies of the English monarch to equate genetically with the king’s bones, which were found beneath a parking lots in 2013.

Firstly, Schurer told Live Science, obtaining Dna from a sample of fuzz isn’t inevitably straightforward. Depending on how the mane has been stored and handled, all of the original DNA may be degraded or polluted beyond recognition.[ Gallery: In Search of the Grave of Richard III]

Even if a usable sample is observed, the researchers have nothing to equate it to for confirmation. Leonardo’s tomb was pillaged during the French revolution, Kemp said, so there are no bones clearly associated with the name.

And family ties likely won’t do the job either, Schurer said. There are two types of DNA that can be traced reliably over long periods, he said: mitochondrial DNA, which comes from the mother and is passed on exclusively through an unbroken girl strand, and Y-chromosome DNA, which comes from the father and can pass only through an unbroken male line.

Fuzzy family tree

Leonardo was an illegitimate child, perhaps the son of a notary in Tuscany identified Messer Piero Fruosino di Antonio da Vinci. The identity of Leonardo’s mother is unknown, though some records suggest that her epithet was Caterina. Some historians belief she was a slave, while others think she was a local free wife. Based on excise documents and property records, Kemp has suggested that she was an orphan known to have lived with her grandmother near the city of Vinci.[ Leonardo Da Vinci’s 10 Best Ideas]

This sketchy genealogy sets scientists in a bad place for find Leonardo’s DNA. In 2016, Vezzosi and Sabato claimed to have identified 35 living relatives of Leonardo — includes the film director Franco Zeffirelli — expending historical documents. All of the relatives were linked to Leonardo’s father via the artist’s friend, since Leonardo did not marry or have progenies. And those relatives do not represent unbroken male or female lines.

For example, Schurer said, one of the men distinguished said his grandmother was proud of her Leonardo heritage. “He has no shared DNA with da Vinci at all, ” Schurer said. His grandmother clearly could not have overtaken along any Y-chromosome DNA to him, because she had no Y chromosome. And because the genealogical associates were solely along Leonardo’s paternal heritage, researchers would have had to rely on the Y chromosome.

Because class proliferate and spread, Leonardo no doubt has millions of living relatives, Schurer said. But the overwhelming majority are of no use to researchers, from a DNA perspective. To get a good identification on Leonardo’s hair or bones, you’d need to have multiple people with unbroken male or female lineages unfolding back 600 years.

Just one person won’t do, Schurer said. Historical documents aren’t enough to prove someone was biologically related to their purported parent. Richard III supplies a good example. To secure the identification of the king’s bones, Schurer and his crew retraced the lineage through Henry Somerset, the fifth duke of Beaufort, who lived between 1744 and 1803 and was connected to Edward III through 15 generations of male offspring. Edward III was Richard III’s great-great-grandfather, likewise through an all-male way, so health researchers were able to use Y-chromosome DNA.

Of the five living male-line descendants the team experimented, four were indeed are connected to Richard III through DNA. One was not. At some level in the lineage, someone’s dad was not really his dad. This shows the importance of multiple pedigrees for testing, Schurer said.

“Had we only taken that one test, everything would then be wrong, ” he said.

In the case of Leonardo, the researchers simply don’t have a clear ancestry, Schurer said , noting further that Vezzosi and Sabato haven’t wrote their work on the genealogies.( Vezzosi and Sabato did not respond to a request for comment mailed through the Leonardo museum .)

“Unless you have certainty somewhere, ” Schurer said, “you’re ever measuring indecision against uncertainty.”

It’s likewise unclear what a snippet of DNA from Leonardo would offer to historians, Kemp said. At most, real Leonardo DNA could kill the story that the artist’s mother was a slave from North Africa or the Middle east, Kemp said.

“But it’s more about sensation than history, ” he said, “and tells us nothing about Leonardo’s actual accomplishments.”

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