Bones believed to be remains of Mexican independence heroes removed from crypt for exams

MEXICO CITY (AP) — In a somber military ceremony, President Felipe Calderon of Mexico escorted skulls and bones believed to be the 200-year-old remains of 12 independence heroes from downtown crypts to a historic hilltop castle where they will be examined for authenticity.

The remains, deposited in crypts under the landmark Angel of Independence statue in 1925, were removed Sunday morning by gloved soldiers carrying five ornate gold and wooden boxes. Several skulls were visible through the boxes' glass siding.

Bands played, choirs sang and thousands of citizens threw white flowers as the boxes were paraded several miles (kilometers) through the city's center, accompanied by more than a thousand cadets and soldiers and dozens of horses parading in regalia.

The government opened the crypts for both maintenance and research as part of the 200th anniversary of the 1810 revolt against Spanish rule.

"Today we pay tribute to those who sacrificed their lives for Mexico, to bring us freedom and independence in our land, a sovereign soil," Calderon said.

A temporary laboratory has been erected in the historic Chapultepec Castle, a museum that has served as Mexico's military academy, imperial residence, and presidential home over the past two centuries.

Scientists plan to examine the remains to determine whether they are those of 12 individuals, as previously believed, and to determine their authenticity. When the research is complete, the remains will be transferred in another military ceremony from the castle to the National Palace in the heart of Mexico City.

Historical records say the remains include those of national hero Miguel Hidalgo, a priest who launched Mexico's War of Independence in 1810 by leading peasants under the banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Hidalgo was executed by firing squad in 1811, and his decapitated remains were displayed for a decade as a warning to other would-be revolutionaries.