Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Goethe Exhumed Volume 52 Number 3, May/June 1999
by Andrew L. Slayman

[image] Skull has similarities to portrait head, says anthropologist Anagnostis Agelarakis, though he cautions it is impossible to be sure without examining it. (Courtesy Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) [LARGER IMAGE]

In 1970, the great poet's remains were taken secretly from his crypt in Weimar, East Germany, cleaned, treated with chemicals, then returned, according to a recent report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The cloak-and-dagger operation began when workers repairing the crypt's lock noticed the remains were badly decayed (hardly surprising since Goethe was buried in 1832). Hoping to display him, Lenin-like, in a glass coffin, local university and museum officials carted the skeleton to the National Goethe Museum, where the bones were stripped of remaining shreds of flesh and treated with preservatives. Ultimately the plan to display him was abandoned and the skeleton was returned to the tomb. Papers and photographs documenting the forgotten exploit were only recently rediscovered, on the eve of the poet's 250th birthday.

© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America