Archaeologists are on a quest to discover the lost bones of Miguel de Cervantes, author of the adventures of knight-errant Don Quixote of La Mancha, almost 400 years after he died penniless and virtually unknown,

The 100,000 ($161,000) project to find the final resting place of the man credited as being the father of the modern novel will begin today when archaeologists will use ground-penetrating radar to explore the earth beneath an old convent in the heart of Madrid.

Cervantes died aged 69 on April 23, 1616 - the same day as William Shakespeare - and had asked to be buried within the Trinitarias convent, a religious order that had helped to pay a ransom to release him from slavery after he was captured by Moorish pirates. The convent near Cervantes' home in the Barrio de Las Letras - the literary quarter - still stands and is home to a dozen cloistered nuns, the youngest of whom is 85.

But the author's exact burial place was lost when the original structure of the convent underwent expansion.


"We are confident that we will be able to find his resting place and identify his remains," said historian Fernando de Prado.

A georadar will scan the ground beneath the oldest part of the convent and probe the walls of side chapels and crypt.

If a likely site is discovered the next stage is to excavate to recover the bones. Identification will be made easier because of injuries Cervantes sustained when he was a soldier.

He fought in the battle of Lepanto in 1571 and was shot in the chest and in the left arm which left him with a withered hand for the rest of his life.