Shakespeare’s skull is missing! In this Monday, Sept. 21, 2009 file photo, Head Verger Jon Ormrod tends to the grave of William Shakespeare in the Chancel of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford Upon Avon, England. Archeologists who scanned the grave of William Shakespeare say they have made a startling discovery: His skull appears to be missing. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, file/Joerg Sarbach)
Shakespeare’s skull is missing!
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Archaeologists who scanned the grave of William Shakespeare say they have made a head-scratching discovery. His skull appears to be missing.

Researchers used ground-penetrating radar to explore the playwright's tomb. The tomb is in Stratford-upon-Avon's Holy Trinity Church. Staffordshire University archaeologist Kevin Colls led the study. He said they found "an odd disturbance at the head end." They also found evidence of repairs some time after the original burial.

He said the finding supports a claim first made in 1879. This claim has long been dismissed as myth. The claim is that the Bard's skull was stolen by grave robbers in the 18th century.

"It's very, very convincing to me that his skull isn't at Holy Trinity at all," Colls said.

Church records say Shakespeare was buried in his hometown church. The church is 100 miles (160 kilometers) northwest of London. Records say he was buried on April 25, 1616. That was two days after his death. He was 52 years old. His wife, Anne Hathaway, daughter and son-in-law were later buried alongside him.

Colls and geophysicist Erica Utsi found that the family members lie in shallow graves in the church chancel. They are not in a single vault. There are no traces of nails or other metal. This suggests they may have been buried in cloth shrouds rather than coffins.

Colls said the findings, which were featured in a documentary airing Saturday on Britain's Channel 4 television, would "undoubtedly spark discussion, scholarly debate and controversial theories" - but some Shakespeare scholars remained skeptical.

Michael Dobson, director of the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham, said the grave-robbing claim was first made in an 1879 short story.

"It's striking the piece of fiction imagines Shakespeare being buried quite shallow, and it turns out he was buried quite shallow," he said Thursday. "But it is still a piece of fiction."

A skull takes a starring role in Shakespeare's "Hamlet," in which the Danish prince addresses the bony cranium of a man he once knew: "Alas, poor Yorick!"

But Dobson said it would have been unusual for anyone to want a writer's skull at the time of the alleged theft.

"There wasn't a huge fashion for robbing literary graves in the 18th century," he said.

Holy Trinity's vicar, Patrick Taylor, said he was not convinced there is "sufficient evidence to conclude that his skull has been taken." And he said there are no plans to disturb the grave to find out for sure.

"We shall have to live with the mystery of not knowing fully what lies beneath the stone," he said.

That may be a wise decision in light of the warning inscribed on Shakespeare's gravestone:

"Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear,

To dig the dust enclosed here.

Blessed be the man that spares these stones,

And cursed be he that moves my bones."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why will we need to “live with this mystery?”
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COMMENTS (67)
  • paulo-hol
    4/01/2016 - 09:50 p.m.

    This was a cool and interesting,but at yhe same time weird and scary.

  • joycel-
    4/04/2016 - 11:13 a.m.

    I think that to have someone steal a head is crazy! But there are only two reasons that I can think of why someone would want to steal someone's head which is just to show it off or sell it to make money.

  • emmam-2-hol
    4/05/2016 - 01:32 p.m.

    Because there is nothing we could do to solve it so we should just " live with it."

  • isabellaa-612-
    4/06/2016 - 09:43 a.m.

    We have to live with this mystery because the only people who actually know what happened in detail would be the actual people who took it. But since it happened in the 18th century there's no way of knowing exactly what happened or even where the head could possibly be. If we even found a clue to who it was they are dead now so we cant interigate them to see where it is. I mean who would want a skull anyways.

  • katrinap1-jen
    4/06/2016 - 02:48 p.m.

    Because you cant just dig up the grave and they said it was stolen a long time ago.now the person who stole is probaly long gone.

  • andrewe-dal
    4/07/2016 - 08:54 a.m.

    How do you lose a skull?Even if it was stolen,there should be a lot of security systems(cameras) around the grave.

  • dustind-ter
    4/12/2016 - 09:19 a.m.

    Shakespeare head is posibly gone! I can't believe some one would steal it.

  • ashtynb-ter
    4/12/2016 - 09:21 a.m.

    I would think that there would be more security around it so no one could steal it!

  • jacobh-ter
    4/12/2016 - 09:29 a.m.

    I think that the scientests aren't digging deep enough in the grave or go to his church and dig deeper

  • donniec-ter
    4/12/2016 - 10:24 a.m.

    How can someone loose a skull? They buried the guy and put him in the dirt. Could someone have dug it up and, opened his head and took the skull, then stitched it up? That's a little scary and crazy. Why can't they just dig him back up and check to see if he has a hole in his head? It doesn't make any sense. Shouldn't there be any cameras or security guards that could be watching the grave. Maybe it would be less confusing if they did. They wouldn't have to go through all this trouble. He was one of the world's most famous writers. They should have security. Even graves of famous soldiers or any soldier for that matter have security. They have people that come out and watch the graves. Maybe this is something that the Trinity Church should think about. Hmmm.

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