Mozart Skull Investigation Hits Sour Note

Sean Markey in Salzburg
National Geographic News
January 9, 2006

Call it the mystery of the decomposed composer.

Researchers announced yesterday that they failed to prove whether a skull locked in an Austrian museum since 1902 belongs to famed 18th-century composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The scientists based their study on DNA analysis of the skull and bones exhumed from a Mozart family grave in 2004. But speaking in a documentary broadcast on Austrian state television last night, researchers said their efforts were inconclusive.

The Associated Press quoted Walther Parson, a scientist with the Institute for Forensic Medicine in Innsbruck who led the investigation, as saying, "For the time being, the mystery of the skull is even bigger."

Austrian broadcaster ORF commissioned the study to mark the 250th anniversary of the composer's birth in Salzburg on January 27, 1756.

Common Grave

Doubt over the skull's true owner, long rumored to be Mozart, has shadowed the relic since it was first presented to the International Mozarteum Foundation in Salzburg in 1902.

Part of the mystery stemmed from Mozart's unceremonious burial at an unmarked grave at St. Marx Cemetery outside Vienna in 1791.

To identify his remains, the cemetery's gravedigger is said to have fixed a wire to Mozart's neck when he was buried, according to the London Times.

When the gravesite was re-dug a number of years later, the laborer reportedly gave the skull to a friend. It passed through several more hands before it was finally given to the Mozarteum.

Hoping to resolve the mystery once and for all, researchers exhumed skeletons from a Mozart family grave at St. Sebastian Cemetery in Salzburg in fall 2004.

The small plot holds remains ascribed to Mozart's father, Leopold; maternal grandmother; and niece.

Continued on Next Page >>


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