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The artist is believed to have been buried in the Chapel of Saint-Florentin, which was destroyed during the French revolution. In the late 19th century, French poet Arsène Houssaye discovered what he believed to be Leonardo’s bones while excavating the ruins of the chapel. The bones were placed at the Chapel of Saint-Hubert, also located at Château d’Amboise.

The Vitruvian Man

Leonardo da Vinci is known for important artworks such as “The Last Supper” and “Vitruvian Man”, as well as his codex, notebooks, and many sketches which have fascinated millions for centuries. A real Renaissance man, da Vinci’s interests spanned art, architecture, music, mathematics, and science. For instance, he first dreamed of the designs for the parachute, bicycle, and helicopter.

On May 2, da Vinci’s Sabato and Vessozi said in a statement that they want to perform DNA analysis on the hair and compare it to the presumed remains at the Amboise tomb. However, the seriousness of such an undertaking has been put into question by experts.

Firstly, there is no reliable way to link Leonardo’s hair to the bones at the Amboise tomb, which could belong to anyone given the original ransacking. Then there’s the question of extracting DNA from the hair itself, a process which isn’t as straightforward as it might sound — the original genetic material may be degraded or contaminated.

The historians have also proposed comparing genetic material from the lock of hair to that belonging to da Vinci’s living descendants. In 2016, Vezzosi and Sabata claimed to have identified 35 living relatives of Leonardo using historical documents. These individuals were linked to Leonardo’s father via the artist’s brother. Leonardo didn’t marry or have children.

However, there are only two types of DNA can be traced reliably over the centuries. One is mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited only from the mother’s side and is solely passed on only through an unbroken female line. Similarly, Y-chromosome DNA comes from the father and is passed on to the next generation only through an unbroken male line. The relatives identified by Vezzosi and Sabata don’t represent unbroken male or female lines, and as such cannot be used to reliably confirm whether the hair did, in fact, belong to Leonardo.

Elsewhere, researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute are testing paintings, notebooks, and drawings which belonged to da Vinci looking for traces of his DNA such as fingerprints, skin flakes, and strands of hair. If it can ever be obtained, this DNA can then be compared to the newly announced lock of hair or any other similar remains.