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Radar study finds Shakespeare's grave may be missing his skull

An underground survey or William Shakespeare's grave has found it may be missing the great playwright's skull.

The grave of William Shakespeare Credit: PA

Archaeologists used ground-penetrating radar to look beneath the surface at what is widely believed to be his final resting place, but found "an odd disturbance at the head end".

The man who led the study at the site in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon said this idea does go along with a century-old story which claims the Bard's skull was stolen by trophy hunters in 1794.

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.

It's very, very convincing to me that his skull isn't at Holy Trinity at all.

– Kevin Colls, Staffordshire University

The survey coincides with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, and the grave's custodians allowed it to take place because it could be done without disturbing the ground.

Holy Trinity Church is believed to be Shakespeare's final resting place Credit: PA

The tombstone inside the church where Shakespeare's body is thought to be buried reads, "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 survey also led the experts to conclude that there may have been a significant repair at the head-end of the grave to correct the sinking floor, triggered by an historic disturbance - possibly grave robbers.

The radar also found Shakespeare, his wife Anne Hathaway, and other family members whose tomb markers lie alongside, were not buried in a vault deep underground, but actually in shallow graves in the chancel.

There was also no evidence of metal, meaning the bodies could have been wrapped in a shroud rather than placed in a coffin.

Researchers have also now been granted access to a skull in St Leonard's Church in Beoley in Worcestershire - 17 miles from Stratford - which is said to have been Shakespeare's.

But analysis found it in fact belonged to an unknown female who was in her 70s when she died.

The researchers found Shakespeare and his family were buried in graves less than a metre deep Credit: PA

Despite the findings at Holy Trinity seeming to corroborate the old tale of thieves stealing the skull, the local vicar isn't convinced.

Holy Trinity Church were pleased to be able to cooperate with this non-intrusive research into Shakespeare's grave. We now know much more about how Shakespeare was buried and the structure that lies underneath his ledger (grave) stone.

We are not convinced, however, that there is sufficient evidence to conclude that his skull has been taken.

We intend to continue to respect the sanctity of his grave, in accordance with Shakespeare's wishes, and not allow it to be disturbed.

We shall have to live with the mystery of not knowing fully what lies beneath the stone.

– Patrick Taylor, Holy Trinity in Stratford

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