Cliff T.: While listening to a recent Podcast of CBC's As It Happens I heard a real interesting interview with Dr. Nicholas Bellantoni. He is a state Archaeologist and he works out of the CT State Museum of Natural History and Archaeology Center. Back in the dying days of world war II Hitler committed suicide, the Russians for years claimed to have the skull of the Nazi leader. However after examining the skull Dr. Bellantoni found that the skull was not that of Hitler but of a woman, possibly Eva Braun, Dr Bellantoni thanks for taking time to speak about this subject.
Cliff T.: Can you explain what it is you do at the museum and how long you have been doing it?
Dr. Bellantoni: My job as state archaeologist has many roles and responsibilities, but, primarily I work toward preservation of archaeological sites in Connecticut. I review subdivisions, shopping malls, golf courses – any economic development project that might have an impact on below-ground archaeological resources. I work with local municipalities in preserving their history. Also, public education about the importance of archaeological sites is another role I take seriously.
Cliff T.: What drew you to Archeology and was that a boyhood interest or something you decided to do as you got older?
Dr. Bellantoni: I was a rather poor student in high school and when I graduated I went into the military and served 4 years in the US Navy. When I returned to civilian life I had matured a great deal and realized I needed to go to college and start a career. Well, no college would take me due to my poor performance in high school. Finally, a community college took me as a returning veteran on probation. I took a course in introductory anthropology and that got me going. I didn’t think to become an archaeologist until I was 24 years ago. Late bloomer!
Cliff T.: Is this the biggest archaeological challenge you have faced?
Dr. Bellantoni: No, the biggest challenge I had was the archaeological excavation and forensic study of the Bulkeley Family Tomb in Colchester, CT. The Bulkeley’s are one of the most prominent New England families, coming to the colony in the 1630s. In 2002, they discovered a family tomb that had been covered with earth and forgotten. The tomb dated form 1770s to 1830s. The family asked if I would do a forensic analysis of the skeletal remains to identify them in history. Turns out there were 30 burials in the tomb, and, between forensic science and genealogical data we were able to identify all of them in the family’s history.
Cliff T.: What drew you to decide to investigate the skull the Russians had?
Dr. Bellantoni: Producers for The History Channel asked if I would assist in a program they were doing on the death and remains of Adolf Hitler, and asked if I would go along as their scientist.
Cliff T.: Certainly Hitler is an interesting/infamous character, however what would be the purpose in finding and examining his skull?
Dr. Bellantoni: The project entailed trying to understand what happened in April and May of 1945 in Berlin. Much of what really happened has been kept secret, so we had an opportunity to investigate a small part of the story. It is important to know and understand a most significant part of world history.
Cliff T.: In your interview with CBC you mentioned that you had heard that the Russians had Hitler's dental records. Have you made progress in getting them along with other data that might help you locate the skull?
Dr. Bellantoni: I have not seen the actual dental x-rays that the Russian have. Hitler had bad teeth and needed bridge work. When the Russians found the bodies of Hitler and Eva Braun, they did an autopsy and identified them through their dental work. That was the best you could do in 1945 and I believe that they did properly identify the bodies. The autopsy report, dental records and a part of the jaw bone (mandible) were sent to Moscow to convince Stalin that Hitler was dead.
Cliff T.: What was it like to hold what you thought was Hitler's skull, how did you feel when you got it? And what was the feeling you had when you realized that it was not his skull?
Dr. Bellantoni: Well, at first it was rather emotional to think that I held the remains of the most infamous person in world history. However, in examination of the cranial vault fragment, I quickly realized that my expectations of what Hitler’s skull cap should look like were not met. The vault fragment appeared to me to be too small (gracile) for an adult male, and too young (sutures were still wide open) for someone who died at 56 years of age.
Cliff T.: Do you still have the skull?
Dr. Bellantoni: No, the cranial vault fragment and the mandible that the Russians sent back to Moscow to demonstrate to Stalin that Hitler died still resides there.
Cliff T.: What kinds of tests did you use to determine the identity of the skull and was this process long or short?
Dr. Bellantoni: As mentioned, I conducted a general examination of gross morphology – that is, observations made by looking for identifiable characteristics, and noted some problems with the bone being that of Adolf Hitler. However, in the range of biological variation, it could still be him. It was really the DNA sample that showed the cranial vault was a woman.
Cliff T.: What will you do if you ever find the skull of Hitler?
Dr. Bellantoni: We will never find the skull of Hitler. In 1970, the Russians excavated his remains for the last time and conducted a full cremation. The ashes were they dumped into a brook that flowed into the Elbe River. His only extant remains are the mandible that was sent to Russia.
Cliff T.: Are there any other archaeological projects or mysteries that you plan to try and unravel in the near or distant future?
Dr. Bellantoni: Oh yes, I have two most interesting projects this year – one involving the identification of Old Leatherman; and one identifying the remains of an old English family of nobility. Anyhow, long stories but I am most interested in the archaeological and forensic potentials of these projects.
Cliff T: Dr. Bellantoni, thanks again for having a candid conversation with me and my readers.
Dr. Bellantoni: Thank you
Cliff T.: Dr. Nicholas Bellantoni has a PhD in Archeology and and works for CT State Museum of Natural History and Archaeology Center, University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT. For more information on the Hitler Skull check out the following links listed below.
CBC Reports on the findings made by Dr. Bellantoni others who worked with him.
As It Happens October 2nd edition part II with Dr. Bellantoni's interview.
The Musem's website. http://www.cac.uconn.edu