notes, finds & fragments of research
Where I don’t care much for the news I have read about opening the grave of a Florentine noblewoman to prove she could (or could not be) the woman commonly known as the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci; mostly because I don’t see the validity in ‘proving the mysterious smile’ by means of taking her skull from the grave, and making a reconstruction of her face. Granted, she is said to have been the very possible model for the painter. But how does one even come to think a smile can be proven through this kind of research? Especially as a smile is only for about 20% dependable on bone-structure and for 80% on muscles and skin, which, let’s be frank about this, have been long gone. Add to that the undoubted artistic freedom Da Vinci would have taken; I find disrupting someone’s rest and burial place for something this trivial and a hard-to-prove-quest, quite abysmal. Had I been a descendant of Lisa Gherardini del Gioconda, I would have strongly objected to the whole thing. Some things should be left to the myths of history and the imagination of people.
However, today I am intrigued by other somewhat similar news: The UMC Radboud (University Medical Centre) in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, published the news of their participation in research after the descendants of the Basarab Dynasty, the family of Vlad III Țepeș Drăculea (1431-1476) Voivode (Prince) of Wallachia, better known as Vlad the Impaler. Having read the report, it is actually quite interesting, but I’ll gladly admit to be biased in the matter as I am wildly interested by what we inherit from our ancestors gene-wise. The report states that earlier studies have demonstrated the value of investigating the Y-chromosome of men bearing a historical name, in order to identify their genetic origin. They don’t give any examples of these studies, but again: I’m biased and will therefore happily take their word for it in this case; primarily, because I know for a fact that, through my Austro-Hungarian great-grandmother, I am a descendant of Elisabeth Bassaraba (1340-1368), a sister of Vlad III’s great-great-grandfather. Perhaps it is very distant but still it is close enough for me to feel some, almost childlike, excitement, while I read the report.
The research team (a joint venture of international specialists) performed genetic research on twenty-nine Romanian men bearing the surname Basarab, which was the name of the aforementioned dynasty. They compared it to the Y-chromosome of one hundred and fifty Romanian men and three hundred and thirty men from neighbouring countries to gain more insight into the regional gene pool. Although they didn’t find direct descendants of the Basarab Dynasty, they did discover a few other things, namely that bearing the name doesn’t necessarily mean blood-relation, due to many possible circumstances; meaning that not all the Basarabi are descendants of the same family. Also, that several of the tested men do share a common ancestor within the period of the last 600 years, and that the alleged Cuman (Turkish) origin of the Basarab Dynasty is probably a myth. The end conclusion is probably the most interesting: […] the Basarab Dynasty was successful in spreading its name beyond the spread of its genes. Unfortunately none of the tested persons could trace back their family history up to the middle ages, which was hoped for: To find a proven link to the dynasty through historical documentation. But they do have an indication that some of them (not all of them for sure) could actually be descendants of the Basarab Dynasty; if only they know which Y-chromosome lineage was carried by the dynasty itself. For this they would have to get hold of genetic material from the old dynasty itself, and compare this to the material they have gathered from their test-persons. I hope they will do so.
Vlad III Țepeș ruled over Wallachia, a region in the south of modern day Romania. His family, the Basarabi, ruled there for about three-hundred years between 1300 and 1600. He himself is only one of the rulers in that long line, but he is known as a strong leader who had little objections to the use of violence and cruelty when it came to dealing with his enemies; his posthumous nickname ‘The Impaler’ speaks volumes in that regard. He was feared far beyond the borders of his realm but also respected for his achievements to strengthen his country’s economy, and for his military campaigns, and even considered a hero by his subjects (and modern day Romanians) for protecting his country in fighting off the Ottoman Turks. But he was brought back to collective memory by Bram Stoker as the namesake of the bloodthirsty gentleman-vampire Count Dracula.
The international news pages are positively wild over the announced NBC-series based upon Stoker’s novel, but this, even more interesting news, is not yet picked up by them. Such is the fate of academic research in relation to historical figures I’m afraid.
For anyone interested, here is a link to the full report: Y-Chromosome Analysis in Individuals Bearing the Basarab Name of the First Dynasty of Wallachian Kings