Shakespeare’s skull appears to be missing, a British archaeologist has claimed using new scanning technology, giving new credence to a centuries-old tale that grave robbers stole the English playwright’s skull from its burial place. Radar scans of Shakespeare’s tomb have led experts to conclude his skull appears to be missing, and was probably stolen in the 18th century.
“This is the first archaeological investigation ever of Shakespeare’s burial, and what we found was quite surprising,” Kevin Colls, the archaeologist who led the study, said ahead of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death next month.
Using radar scans, the team found “an odd disturbance at the head end” of the grave, he said. “Our equipment could identify a change of material in the burial,” said Colls, adding that the discovery suggested this foreign material was used to repair damage of the grave.
Colls said that the findings matched several details of a robbery story published in British magazine, Argosy, in 1879. According to the magazine, almost a century earlier in 1794 grave robbers stole Shakespeare’s head from the Holy Trinity church in Stratford-upon-Avon.
“It is very likely to me that the skull is not there,” Colls was quoted as saying by CNN. Apparently, the inscription on Shakespeare’s grave stone, which has no name on it, was not enough to keep tomb raiders away.
Part of the inscription on Shakespeare’s grave reads: “Blessed be the man that spares these stones, and cursed be he that moves my bones.” It is not surprising that grave robbers targeted Shakespeare’s final resting place, according to Colls.
“At the time, stealing skulls from graves was common practice,” he said. People wanted the skulls of geniuses and famous people to analyze them and trying to figure out what made them special, the researcher explained. Or they were simply trophy hunters looking for money.
The underground investigation also debunked several myths surrounding the burial. According to one of them, Shakespeare was buried in a vertical position, while another claims he rested 17ft beneath the surface.
Yet another story claims the playwright was buried in a vault along with wife Anne Hathaway and other family members. “None of them is true,” Colls said. Instead, Shakespeare is buried in a simple and shallow tomb, about one meter deep, and probably wrapped in a shroud, say scientists.
Next to him, some family members, including his wife, rest. Although conceding that the evidence is not conclusive, he believes the skull was taken from the church. “William’s skulls is still out there,” he said. “And we are going after it,” he added. Shakespeare, 52, died on April 23, 1616.