Archaeologists say they have found a complete skeleton buried beneath the floor of an abandoned nunnery in Florence, Italy, which might belong to Lisa Gherardini, the woman believed to have inspired Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa.

The bones were found beneath the remains of an altar in the church of the now derelict Convent of St. Orsola.

"That altar was certainly in use at Lisa Gherardini's time," said Valeria D'Aquino, an archaeologist at the Tuscan Superintendency.

D'Aquino and colleagues had to dig through a foot of concrete before they unearthed a brick crypt containing the bones.

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The bone hunt, which began last year, aims to possibly reconstruct Lisa's face in order to see if her facial features match that of the iconic painting hanging at the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Indeed, most scholars believe that the Mona Lisa, known as La Gioconda in Italian or La Joconde in French, is the portrait of Lisa Gherardini, a member of a minor noble family of rural origins who married the wealthy merchant Francesco del Giocondo.

The ambitious project is led by Silvano Vinceti, president of a private organization known as the National Committee for the Promotion of Historic and Cultural Heritage. 

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Known for controversial claims, like that letters and numbers are hidden inside the Mona Lisa painting, Vinceti has based his search in the convent on documents found by historian Giuseppe Pallanti some years ago.

"Lisa Gheradini did exist and lived a rather ordinary life," Pallanti, who is not involved in the project, told Discovery News.

The historian traced back Lisa's life from her birth on June 15, 1479, to her death at the age of 63.

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In his research, Pallanti found several important documents, such as Francesco del Giocondo's will. There, the merchant asked his younger daughter, Marietta, to take care of his "beloved wife," Lisa.

At that time, Marietta, one of Lisa and Francesco's five children, had become a nun, thus she brought her mother to the nearby convent of Sant'Orsola.

Lisa remained there until her death, according to a document known as a "Book of the Dead," found by Pallanti in a church archive.

"Lisa di Francesco Del Giocondo died on July 15, 1542 and was buried in Sant'Orsola," the document stated.

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The record noted that the whole parish turned out for her funeral, showing that Lisa was rather famous among Florentine society.

Vinceti said that the newly discovered bones will undergo radiocarbon dating, hystological analysis and DNA testing.

"If the bones turn to be those of a female skeleton there will be two possibilities: Either they belong to the noblewoman Maria del Riccio or they belong to Lisa Gherardini. According to historic records, only these two women, who were not nuns, were given special burials in the convent," Vinceti told the local daily La Nazione.

Eventually, comparisons will be made with the DNA of Bartolomeo and Piero, Lisa's children who are buried in the church of Santissima Annunziata in Florence.

Top photo: Da Vinci's The Mona Lisa. Credit: Corbis. Middle photo: The now derelict Convent of St. Ursula in Florence, Italy. Credit: Sailko/Wikimedia Commons.