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.

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"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.