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Is it Mozart's? This skull tantalizes but isn't talking

January 10, 2006|From Associated Press

VIENNA — It's a Mozart mystery as haunting as his "Requiem" -- and apparently it won't be solved anytime soon.

After months of sophisticated DNA sleuthing reminiscent of a "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" episode, forensics experts admitted on national television that they still can't say with certainty whether an aged skull is that of the composer, as some believe.

Past tests on the skull also were inconclusive, and a joint analysis conducted by the Institute for Forensic Medicine in Innsbruck, Austria, and the U.S. Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Rockville, Md., generated more questions than answers, lead researcher Dr. Walther Parson conceded.

"For the time being, the mystery of the skull is even bigger," Parson's team concluded in "Mozart: The Search for Evidence," a much-hyped documentary aired Sunday evening on Austrian state broadcaster ORF in the run-up to the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth.

Since 1902, the skull -- which is missing its lower jaw -- has been in the possession of the International Mozarteum Foundation in Salzburg, the Austrian city where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on Jan. 27, 1756.

Parson, an internationally renowned forensic pathologist, said genetic material from two teeth removed from the skull was analyzed and compared with DNA samples gathered in 2004 from the thighbones of two skeletons exhumed from the Mozart family grave at Salzburg's St. Sebastian Cemetery.

Experts had assumed the remains were of Mozart's maternal grandmother and a niece. But DNA analysis showed that none of the skeletons in the grave were related, making it impossible to prove that the skull was Mozart's, Parson said.

"The dead took their secrets to the grave," the documentary concluded.

This year's 250th anniversary has inspired a flurry of revelations about virtually every aspect of Mozart's brief but musically prolific life and the circumstances surrounding his death in 1791.

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