Two sets of bones have been found as officials investigate the 1983 disappearance of the 15-year-old daughter of a Vatican employee.
The new discovery came after the tombs of two 19th-century German princesses were opened in the cemetery of the Pontifical Teutonic College in Vatican City in the hope of finding Emanuela Orlandi’s remains.
Ms Orlandi’s family had received a tip that she might be buried there but the tombs turned out to be empty.
However, the Vatican suspected that any bones in the tombs might have been displaced during structural work carried out on both the college building and a cemetery near St Peter’s Basilica in the 1800s and in more recent decades.
Spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said further searches had centred on the areas adjoining the princesses’ tombs and that investigators had located two sets of bones under a stone slab manhole covering inside the Teutonic college itself.
He said the area was immediately sealed off and would be opened in the presence of forensic experts on 20 July.
Mr Gisotti added the bones were found in two holes carved out of a large stone that was covered by an old pavement stone a few metres behind the princesses’ tombs.
Emanuela Orlandi disappeared after leaving her family’s Vatican City apartment to go to a music lesson in Rome.
Her father was a lay employee of the Holy See.
Her case has been one of the enduring mysteries of the Vatican, kept alive by the Italian media and a quest by her brother Pietro Orlandi to find answers.
Over the years, her disappearance has been linked to everything from the plot to kill Pope St John Paul II to the financial scandal of the Vatican bank and Rome’s criminal underworld.
The last major twist in the case came in 2012, when Italian forensic police exhumed the body of a reputed mobster from the crypt of a Roman basilica in hopes of finding Ms Orlandi’s remains as well. The search turned up no link.
Last year, bones were found underneath the Vatican’s embassy to Italy in Rome.
Italian media immediately speculated the remains could belong to Ms Orlandi or another girl who went missing at around the same time.
But forensic tests showed the bones long predated their disappearances.