May 27, 2011 at 12:57 PM ET
Mona Lisa's skull and bones may have been found beneath a decrepit nunnery in Florence, Italy, archaeologists are reporting.
If so, scientists will be a step closer to proving that Lisa Gheradini Del Giocondo, the wife of a wealthy silk merchant, was the model for Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting that today hangs in Paris' Louvre.
Italians know the painting as La Gioconda based on a belief that her husband, Francisco del Giocondo, commissioned Da Vinci to paint a portrait of his wife in 1502.
Historical records, including a death certificate discovered a few years ago, indicate Gheradini was buried at St. Ursula's convent where she died in 1542, two years after her husband's death.
A team of archaeologists led by Silvano Vinceti, chairman of the National Committee for the Promotion of Historical Heritage, Culture, and Environment, began excavating the dilapidated building where the convent was located in April.
Earlier this month, the team discovered the crypt where Gheradini was thought to be buried. On May 19, the team reported the recovery of a skull and other fragments of human ribs and vertebrae.
Today, experts said preliminary analysis of the bones indicates they belong to a female.
Vinceti noted that a battery of tests such as carbon-14 dating and a comparison of DNA with two of Gheradini's children buried in Florence's Santissima Annunziata church will be required to prove the skeleton belonged to the Mona Lisa's real-life model.
Then, the team will reconstruct the face and compare it to the famous painting to see if they match.
More stories on Mona Lisa science:
John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the "like" button on the Cosmic Log Facebook page or following msnbc.com's science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).