For years, Fernando de Prado felt he was tilting at windmills in his quest to find the remains of Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes. But on Monday the historian and his small team will begin a hi-tech search for the remains of one of western literature’s most significant authors.

Cervantes is recorded as having died on 22 April 1616 and been buried a day later in the convent of las Trinitarias Descalzas, in the heart of Madrid, but the precise spot is unknown.

Two plaques, one on the brick exterior of the convent and another inside the church, are all that mark the spot where the man considered to be the founder of the modern novel is buried.

It is hardly a fitting tribute to the author of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, one of the most influential works of European literature.

Mr. Prado and his team will sweep every inch of the convent with ground-penetrating radar equipment, the kind used in crime scene investigations. After the four-day sweep, the team will excavate any promising bones and send them to a laboratory for analysis. The process could take months, said Mr. Prado.

Until recently, finding an exact burial place was unthinkable. “The technology and scientific means didn’t exist to differentiate one skeleton from another. But when I started to hear about all of these advancements, I thought: why don’t we try it?”

That kicked off a difficult four-year search for funding. Spain’s economic crisis made the venture a tough sell. As he cajoled the city of Madrid and international backers, “people saw only the cost, not the potential”.

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2014