10. The Legend of Shakespeare’s Missing Head

Bones are all around you. Most of the ones closest to you are safely hidden inside bodies, but every skull and bone must come out of its shell and return to dust at some point. Each one leaves behind a story in the process, and some of these tales are quite remarkable—like the people, beasts, and macabre model skull on the list below.

10. The Legend of Shakespeare’s Missing Head

For years, it was believed that the bard’s head had been stolen by thieves keen on studying it for clues about the playwright’s genius. In fact, a magazine called The Argosy published an 1879 article that even assigned an exact date to the crime—1794. But few gave the tale credence, and the years passed by.

Shakespeare died in 1616, which makes 2016 the 400th anniversary of his death, and we can thank this milestone for the discovery that the legend of his missing skull is quite probably fact. The Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, where Shakespeare and other family members rest, had long refused archaeologists’ requests to investigate the grave. But with the anniversary fast approaching, a team from Staffordshire University led by Kevin Colls was finally given permission to perform testing for the documentary Secret History: Shakespeare’s Tomb, and what they found corroborates the whisperings of yore.

Using ground-penetrating radar, Colls and his team peered inside the grave to see what they could see. And what they saw was odd—a body that appeared to lack a head, plus a section of tomb that contained intentional damage and repair. These finds pointed the team to another skull of legend, this one located not too far away in Beoley at St. Leonard’s church. Proponents of the stolen head theory previously thought the Beoley Skull was Shakespeare’s. However, Colls’ team carefully analyzed the skull and concluded it belonged to an old woman. So, a dead end.

Which leaves us with two questions: Where is Shakespeare’s skull? And what curses befell the scoundrels who seem to have made off with it? For the inscription on the ledger promises nothing good to cranioklepts:

“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.”

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