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Reuters/ Suzanne Plunkett
Shallow grave.

Radar scans of Shakespeare’s grave suggest his skull is missing

By Olivia Goldhill

Alas, poor William Shakespeare. It seems the great playwright’s skull has been stolen from his grave, according to archeologists who scanned the church floor under which the Bard is buried.

Researchers, who used ground-penetrating radar to explore the grave, say signs of interference at the head of the grave fit with reports that Shakespeare’s skull was stolen.

“We have Shakespeare’s burial with an odd disturbance at the head end and we have a story that suggests that at some point in history someone’s come in and taken the skull of Shakespeare,” said archaeologist Kevin Colls, from Staffordshire University, according to Reuters. “It’s very very convincing to me that his skull isn’t at Holy Trinity at all.”

Church records show Shakespeare was buried at Stratford-upon-Avon’s Holy Trinity Church on April 25, 1616. His gravestone is not marked with his name, but the apparently unheeded warning:

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.

The findings give credence to tales of Shakespeare’s grave robbery, which were first published in the Argosy magazine in 1879. Such skull trophy-hunting was not so unusual in the 18th century, when it was thought that genius such as Shakespeare’s would be evident on his skeletal remains.