Columbus: Secrets From The Grave

Atlantic Productions for the Discovery Channel, first aired August 1, 2004.

Columbus is celebrated as the founding father of the new world. Yet for all his fame, he kept a closely guarded secret: his identity.

Could he once have been a pirate? An enemy of the state? Even a Jew hiding from the terror of the Spanish Inquisition? The secret of Columbus' true identity went with him to the grave. But now a scientific team has exhumed his remains to discover the truth. Can an investigation by historian Charles Merrill and the latest scientific techniques reveal who the real Columbus was and solve the 500-year-old mystery of his origins? This film was the Discovery Channel's highest rating special of the year.

Clip 1

Narrator: ...while psychological profiling attempts to discover the man behind the mask.

Bursztajn: Columbus invented America, is it a stretch to imagine that also Columbus invented himself in the process? I don't think so.

Clip 2a

Narrator: Merrill has asked a psychological profiler, Dr. Harold Bursztajn, to search for a motive behind Columbus' cover up.

Bursztajn: For someone to obscure their identity, must mean that they are either being driven by fear, they are afraid of something; they are being driven by shame, they are ashamed of something; they are driven by desire, they want something.

Narrator: Experts believe that the ambitious explorer was trying to cover up the shame of his modest beginnings.

Clip 2b

Narrator: But Dr. Bursztajn thinks it's unlikely for one crucial reason. Columbus did not hide his family, he kept his brothers close to him throughout his lifetime.

Bursztajn: If he had been a member of a pro-Genoese family, and he wanted simply to forget about it, it's more likely that he would not have wanted to have his brothers close to him as he rose to power. Usually under those circumstances, the people who are considered to be lower class are left behind.

Clip 3

Narrator: Dr. Bursztajn's analysis suggests he did.

Bursztajn: The price that one pays in hiding one's identity is a considerable price, so there has to be something that outweighs it. It could be a process which is driven by being an enemy of the state originally who wants to go ahead and switch sides but doesn't want to publicize the fact that he had been an enemy of the state especially if that is still held against you, that would be consistent with that.