DNA tests soon may solve a century-old mystery -- whether a skull held by the International Mozarteum Foundation is part of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's remains.
Archaeologists have opened a grave in Salzburg thought to contain the remains of Mozart's father and other relatives. Experts plan to conduct tests soon to compare genetic material with the foundation's skull and determine if it belonged to the famed Austrian composer.
Mozart died in 1791 and was buried in a pauper's grave at Vienna's St. Marxer Cemetery. The location of the grave was initially unknown, but its likely location was determined in 1855. The grave on that spot is adorned by a column and a sad-looking angel.
Legend has it that a gravedigger who knew which body was Mozart's at some point sneaked the skull out of the grave. Through different channels, the skull came to the Mozarteum in Salzburg in 1902, said Stephan Pauly, the foundation's director.
There it remains, kept in a "dignified manner" out of public view, Pauly said. He declined to describe exactly how the skull, which lacks its lower jaw, is stored.
The institute is unsure just how the gravedigger got to the skull, and how he knew where Mozart's body was stored.
"There's been several different examinations carried out, but none has offered conclusive evidence as to whether it belonged to Mozart," Pauly said in a telephone interview from Salzburg.
The foundation, a private nonprofit organization that works to preserve Mozart's legacy, was founded in 1880 by Salzburg residents. It readily made the skull available for the DNA test and is "following this project with great interest," Pauly said.
The outcome of the testing will be presented early next year, said Burgl Czeitschner, a state television science journalist who initiated the project.
The bodies in the grave were exhumed last week, and consultations will be held this month on the tests, she said. A date for the analysis hasn't been set.
"If it's the Mozart grave we exhumed, then we might have found the remains of Mozart's niece, father and grandmother,"' she said. "Four archaeologists documented everything -- exactly in what positions the skeletons were laid and if something was missing."
What happens to the skull if it's found to be a Mozart relic remains an open question, Pauly said.
"But of course, we will handle the skull with dignity," he said.