Police will attempt to recover DNA material from the body, first found in 1948.
Police in the southern Australian city of Adelaide exhumed the corpse of a man who has been dead for more than 70 years in an attempt to identify him and solve a mystery that has captured the popular imagination, authorities said on Wednesday.
Police will attempt to recover DNA material from the body known locally as the “Somerton Man”, first found in 1948 slumped against the seawall of Somerton Park beach, a half-hour drive from the South Australian state capital.
The man was buried at a local cemetery under a simple gravestone that reads: “Here lies the unknown man who was found at Somerton Beach, 1st Dec. 1948”.
“The Somerton Man is not just a curiosity, or a mystery to be solved, it’s somebody’s father, son, perhaps grandfather, uncle, brother, and that’s why we are doing this and trying to identify him,” Detective Superintendent Des Bray told reporters at the cemetery.
“There are people we know that live in Adelaide who believe they may be related and they deserve to have a definitive answer as to whether they are a descendant of the Somerton Man or not.”
The circumstances of the man’s death remain an open investigation and his identity has been the subject of many theories, ranging from speculation he could have been a sailor, a military man or a Cold War-era Russian spy.
“It’s a story that has captured the imagination of people across the state, and, indeed, across the world – but I believe that, finally, we may uncover some answers,” South Australian Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said.
According to archived articles, certain items found with the body added to the mystery.
They included the book of medieval Persian poetry “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” with handwriting on the back thought by some to be a code, a torn piece of paper with the Farsi words “tamám shud”, meaning “ended” or “finished”, and a suitcase.
Anne Coxon, assistant director of the South Australian forensic science authority, said the DNA testing would be complex and take time, but teams would use every available method to solve an enduring mystery.
“The technology available to us now is clearly light years ahead of the techniques available when this body was discovered in the late 1940s,” she said. (Reuters)