Bones of Contention DNA Tests Reveal 'Schiller's' Skull Not His

Researchers have found that none of the three skulls claimed to be Friedrich Schiller's are actually his. So where are the poet's remains exactly?


Every year tens of thousands of tourists flock to the German city of Weimar to visit the grave of writer Friedrich Schiller. But now researchers have found out that the remains within the grave do not actually belong to the writer.

Researchers compared DNA from the skull in Weimar's Fürstengruft cemetery believed to have belonged to Schiller with the DNA of his closest relatives -- and found out the so-called "Fürstengruft skull" belonged to an unidentified third party. "We found out the truth," Hellmut Seemann, president of the Foundation of Weimar Classics, told SPIEGEL.

The skull had been thought to be real for 180 years, given its close resemblance to Schiller's death mask and contemporary portraits of the writer. The DNA tests also revealed that two additional skulls which some had claimed to be Schiller's also did not belong to the poet.

The interdisciplinary research project was initiated by the eastern German public television station MDR together with the Foundation of Weimar Classics in 2006 to investigate the authenticity of the skull thought to be Schiller's. The results were broadcast in a television documentary called "The Friedrich Schiller Code" on Saturday evening.

Schiller had originally been interred in a mausoleum in Weimar's Jacobs cemetery reserved for prominent citizens. But his remains were mixed with others, leading to a mistake when "Schiller's" skull and an accompanying skeleton was transferred to the city's Fürstengruft cemetery in 1826. The skeleton also doesn't belong to Schiller, the researchers found, but to several unidentified people. It is not clear where Schiller's real skull is, but researchers suspect that Schiller's remains may still be in the Jacobs cemetery.

The discovery raises intriguing new questions. "Such an exact double couldn't have got into the coffin just by accident," anthropologist Ursula Wittwer-Backofen told SPIEGEL. Wittwer-Backofen's fellow researcher Ralf Jahn postulates that Schiller's skull may have been stolen, possibly as far back as the 19th century, and replaced by a very similar skull.

Schiller, who died in Weimar in 1805, is one of Germany's most revered writers. His most famous works include the plays "The Robbers" and "Intrigue and Love." He is buried next to his friend Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in the Fürstengruft cemetery, a popular tourist site that receives around 40,000 visitors a year.

dgs/spiegel

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