Have scientists found Mozart’s skull? Researchers say they’ll reveal the results of DNA tests in a documentary airing Sunday (Jan. 8) on Austrian television as part of a year of celebratory events marking the composer’s 250th birthday.
The tests were done last year by experts at the Institute for Forensic Medicine in Innsbruck, and the results will be made public in “Mozart: The Search for Evidence,” to be screened by state broadcaster ORF.
Past tests were inconclusive, but this time, “we succeeded in getting a clear result,” lead researcher Dr. Walther Parson, a forensic pathologist, told ORF. He said the results were “100 percent verified” by a U.S. Army laboratory.
For more than a century, the skull has been in the possession of the International Mozarteum Foundation in Salzburg, the elegant Austrian city where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on Jan. 27, 1756.
Parson said genetic material from scrapings from the skull was analyzed and compared to DNA samples gathered in 2004 from the thigh bones of Mozart’s maternal grandmother and a niece. The bones were recovered when a family grave that was opened in 2004 at Salzburg’s Sebastian Cemetery.
Mozart died in 1791 at age 35 and was buried in a pauper’s grave at Vienna’s St. Mark’s Cemetery. The location of the grave was initially unknown, but its likely location was determined in 1855. The grave now is adorned by a column and a sad-looking angel.
Legend has it that a gravedigger who knew which body was Mozart’s sneaked the skull out of the grave. The skull -— which is missing its lower jaw -— came to the Mozarteum in Salzburg in 1902, according to Dr. Stephan Pauly, the foundation’s director.
The foundation, a private nonprofit organization that works to preserve Mozart’s legacy, was founded in 1880 by Salzburg residents and made the skull available for the DNA tests.
The skull long has fascinated experts: In 1991, a French scholar who examined it made the startling -— though unconfirmed -— conclusion that Mozart may have died of complications of a head injury rather than rheumatic fever as most historians believe.
Anthropologist Pierre-Francois Puech of the University of Provence based his belief on a fracture on the skull’s left temple. Mozart, he theorized, may have sustained it in a fall, and that would help explain the severe headaches the composer was said to have suffered more than a year before his death.
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