Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal

The History of "Beethoven's" Skull Fragments: Part Two

Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal

The History of "Beethoven's" Skull Fragments: Part Two

Article excerpt

Part One of this essay appeared in Volume 20, nos. 1-2 (2005) of The Beethoven Journal.

THE MOST IMPORTANT RESEARCH ON THE SKULL FRAGMENTS since 2005 TOOK place in 2012. In January I suggested to Paul Kaufmann, the owner of the skull fragments, that we try to find an osteologist to examine the approximately ten small pieces ofbone that had never been inspected by a osteological specialist. These fragments had been stored in the small metal box that held the two larger pieces that had been analyzed and identified as Beethovens by Hans Bankl and Hans Jesserer in 1985, as reported on in their 1987 book Die Krankheiten Ludwig van Beethovens: Pathographie seines Lebens und Pathologe seiner Leiden (Ludwig van Beethoven's Illnesses: the Pathography of his Life and the Pathology of His Suffering, Verlag Wilhelm Maudrich).1 (A pathography is a retrospective study, often by a physician, of the life of an individual or the history of a community focusing on the influences and effects of disease on the person or community.)

Mr. Kaufmann had told me that his mother, Alma Kaufmann, had often called the collection ofbones "Beethovens ear bones." His recollections are confirmed by a letter of February 12,1987, in which she wrote that in 1863 Beethovens "remains were exhumed for reburial in a more distinguished cemetery. At that time Professor Seligmann was given the Beethoven Skull for his collection. However our uncle was only interested in the Ear Bones of the skull because of Beethovens deafness." (This statement contains three significant errors.2) Since the ear bones were lost not long after Beethovens autopsy on March 27,1827, it seemed important to ask for an expert opinion on the small fragments from an osteologist. Mr. Kaufmann generously agreed, as he has with all scientific research on the bones, to show them to an osteologist we identified.

On January 25,2012,1 wrote to Dr. Dena Werb, professor and currently vice-chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, San Francisco, who directed me to three researchers at UCSF who might be able to help. One of them, Dr. Kimberly Tbpp, Sexton Sutherland Endowed Chair in Human Anatomy, recommended that I contact Dr. David Burr, Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology at Indiana University. In an email ofjanuary 31, he replied, "The first person who comes to mind on the West Coast is Tim White, who is at UC-Berkeley. Tim worked with Don Johansson on the Lucy remains and has continued to be active and highly regarded in the field ofhuman paleontology. Although your request is not paleontological, Tim is certainly one of the most knowledgeable physical anthropologists in the field of osteology, and works with bone fragments all the time." I wrote to Dr. White that day: "Dear Dr. White: a strange but important question for you. Some of the fragments of Beethovens skull- three large pieces and around 10 small ones-are in Danville. The locations of the larger ones have been identified, but the little ones have never been identified. In fret, they may not be skull bones. Is there any chance you might look at them for us ?" Dr. White replied that day, "Dear Mr. Meredith, This would be easy. I wrote the most widely used textbook in human osteology, and have had decades of experience in this kind of thing. In fret, we are currendy on the skull in my upper division course in human osteology here at Cal. Let me know when you'd like to visit Berkeley.... The students would be delighted and would learn from the experience." I let Mr. Kaufmann know that Dr. White had agreed to look at them, and he replied in an email that same day, "Yes indeed. Very exciting. I will get the fragments out of the safe" (where they had been carefully stored). The meeting was set for Friday, February 17; I wrote to Dr. White and Mr. Kaufmann on February 2: "What will become a historic day in Beethoven studies is now set." My statement only referred to the fret that the ten small fragments would finally be identified by an expert osteologist. …

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