Image: Petrarch
Petrarch is considered second only to Dante in the pantheon of Italian poets. He lived from 1304 to 1374. Scientists want to reconstruct his features, based on his bones, but they discovered that the skull in his tomb actually belonged to a woman who died before the poet was born.
updated 10/12/2004 5:47:01 PM ET 2004-10-12T21:47:01

A scientific team that had been hoping to reconstruct the features of the great Italian poet Petrarch by digging up his bones has confirmed that the skull found in his tomb is not his.

Instead, the skull belongs to a woman who died before the poet was born, project leader Vito Terribile Wiel Marin said Tuesday.

Marin wanted to use Petrarch’s bones to construct an image of the poet.

“Thank God we did not do it because we would have ended up with the face of a woman, much to everyone’s amusement,” Marin said by phone from his home in Padua in northern Italy.

Petrarch was born in Tuscany in 1304 and is considered second only to Dante in the pantheon of Italian poets. His tomb is in Arqua-Petrarca, a village near Padua where the poet died in 1374.

Marin and his colleagues suspected in April that the skull was not Petrarch’s, but sent a fragment to the United States for carbon dating to be sure.

The results showed that the head belonged to a woman who died between 1134 and 1280.

Marin said that whoever removed Petrarch’s head “must have had access to a collection of skulls,” perhaps at Padua University’s medical school. He said he still holds out hope that someone will return the poet’s missing skull.

Marin said his team would replace Petrarch’s body — which they are sure is authentic — following a restoration of the poet’s marble tomb. “But it would be nice to do it with the skull,” he said.

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