Freiberg’s Skull-in-Coal Controversy

The Forbidden Archaeologist

In 1842, Karl Moritz Kersten, a German chemist, published a report about a human skull formed from brown coal (Archiv für Mineralogie, Geognosie, Bergbau und Hüttenkunde, vol. 16, pp. 372–375). According to Kersten, a mining engineer named Leschner obtained the skull-shaped object from the estate of a pharmacist who had died in 1813 in Freiberg, Germany. Leschner displayed the skull at a meeting of a local mining society. Kersten did a chemical analysis and found the mass of the object consisted of half brown coal (lignite) and half brown iron ore. However, under magnification he could detect no sign of bone substance (p. 372). This led him to conclude that the skull had originally lain in soft coal deposits that filled the interior of the skull, and later the bone substance of the skull dissolved (p. 374).

In 1859, a catalog of the Royal Mining Academy of Freiberg listed the skull in its collection of fossil animal remains, giving this note: “Interior filling of a human skull by a mass of coal, probably from Bohemia.” Bohemia is now in the Czech Republic. In 2007 geologist V. Teodoridis reported that the brown coal deposits there are from the Early Miocene (Bulletin of Geosciences, vol. 82, pp. 409–418). According to the International Chronostratigraphic Chart (2018), the Early Miocene goes from 15.97 to 23.3 million years ago.

In 1923, Otto Stutzer, a prominent German geologist, gave a brief notice, in German, about the Freiberg object in his textbook on geology (Kohle: Allgemeine Kohlengeologie). In 1940, the book was published in English. The relevant passage in the English edition (p. 274) says: “Animal remains in coal beds are extremely rare. The animals which once inhabited the great coal swamps were terrestrial forms, the bodies of which decomposed after death just as rapidly as do the bodies of animals living in existing primitive forests and moors. In the coal collection of the Mining Academy in Freiberg there is a puzzling human skull composed of brown-coal and manganiferous and phosphatic limonite, but its source is not known” (Stutzer, 1940, p. 274; Frair 1969, p. 133). Limonite is a kind of iron ore.

Although in 1923, Stutzer characterized the object as “a puzzling human skull,” in 1927, in a report published in the journal Braunkohle (vol. 26, p. 311), he concluded it was a fake: “The head has the shape of a human skull. It consists of brown coal matter, limonite and triplite… Naturally, it would be valuable to investigate the object for its authenticity and its age, since it indeed could be the valuable remains of a primitive man. However, a close examination revealed unfortunately that this skull is a skillful fake. For the sake of safety the head was sent to the ethnographic division of the Zwinger Museum in Dresden with the request for expert opinion. This competent institution immediately ascertained that it is a fake, which is to say, a skull molded from brown coal mixed with limonite and triplite.” Triplite is a phosphate mineral, brown in color.

In 1961, two Christian creationists, J. C Whitcomb and H. M. Morris, briefly mentioned the Freiberg skull in their widely circulated book, The Genesis Flood (pp. 175–176). They quoted Stutzer’s statement, originally made in German in 1923 and published in English in 1940, characterizing the object as “a puzzling human skull.” Given that it was found in brown coal deposits, supposedly millions of years old, it could be taken as fossil evidence contradicting the Darwinian evolutionary account of human origins. And some researchers and authors did take it that way. But in 1969, Wayne Frair, a Christian creationist author, aware of Stutzer’s 1927 article calling the Freiberg skull “a skillful fake,” published an article agreeing with this conclusion (Creation Research Society Quarterly, vol. 5, pp.133–135).

Frair exchanged some letters with G. Roselt, a scientist working in the geology department of the museum in Freiberg where the skull-like object was kept, and with Herbert Bach, an anthropologist at the University of Jena. Frair (1969, p. 134) said that, “both have observed the skull and have indicated in personal letters (early 1968) that, according to their studies so far, the skull is not a fossil but rather a falsification.”

In 1979, Frair went to Freiberg (then in Communist East Germany) to see the skull. Roselt asked him not to publish anything about it until Roselt had published his own report. Roselt published his report in 1988, and in 1993 Frair published a paper in which he relied heavily on Roselt’s work (Creation Research Society Quarterly, vol. 30, pp. 36-39).

According to Frair (p. 37), these are some of the main findings in Roselt’s 1988 report: “No bony substance could be identified… The skull is of brown coal, which is composed of various size, dark, shiny particles called duxit. The duxit is believed to have been formed by volcanic heating of resin and wax in brown coal seams. In these seams, the melted wax-resin mixture solidified in layers and was named duxit because it first was discovered in the town of Dux (northern Czechoslovakia)… The skull is not of natural origin but rather is an artistic product.”

In 1991, Bach and Roselt published another study. According to Frair (pp. 37–38), some of the important findings were: “1) The general form of the skull, including dimensions and ratios… resembles that of a child or a juvenile female. However, there are no teeth, residues of bone, or fine surface structures as expected for a genuine fossil skull. 2) Carl Emanuel Loescher, who was born in 1750 and died 21 March 1813, of typhoid fever, apparently was a highly gifted man who had considerable experience with mining. He likely had access to duxit as well as to resins used in pharmacies. So he could have been the originator of this skull some time between 1785 and his death in 1813.”

Agreeing with Bach and Roselt, Frair (p. 38) announced his own conclusion: “So far none of those… who have examined the intact skull macroscopically or the material of which it is composed microscopically have been able to identify bone. So apparently somebody who brought together various pieces of brown coal, resins, and plants formed this artifact some time prior to the summer of 1813. The coal mass was molded to resemble a human skull. This object then was heated thus melting some of the component resins and consequently causing particles in the solid mass to adhere together so that the molded shape was retained… The skull formerly has been used as evidence regarding human ancestry, but now we must recognize it not as a fossilized skull but rather a product of human endeavor, and possibly a hoax.”

When I look at all the evidence, I come to a different conclusion—the one given in the 1859 museum catalog, which characterized the object as: “Interior filling of a human skull by a mass of coal, probably from Bohemia.” If the mass of coal is the interior filling of a human skull, and not the skull itself, this would explain its skull-like shape and the absence of bone (which had dissolved or been replaced). Keep in mind this observation by Bach and Roselt (1991), as recorded by Frair (1993, p. 37): “The general form of the skull, including dimensions and ratios… resembles that of a child or a juvenile female.” That the material of the filling had been subjected to heating and mixed with a resinous substance is consistent with the Eocene coal deposits of Bohemia. So Frair, Roselt, and Bach are correct when they say the Freiberg skull is not a fossil bone, but they are not correct in insisting it must be a human creation of the early nineteenth century. The most probable explanation, consistent with the facts as currently known, is that the Freiburg object is the solidified infilling of the skull of a human who existed in the early Eocene, over 15.7 million years ago.

I was aware of the Freiberg skull when I was doing research for Forbidden Archeology in the late 1980s, but, influenced by the negative reporting on the Freiberg by Frair (1969), I decided not to include it in the book. I was very much influenced by the absence of any bone substance. I was also influenced by the fact that the dismissal of the Freiberg skull came from an author who was a creationist. Creationists had no reason to be biased against evidence that contradicts the evolutionary timeline for human origins. Now, having reconsidered the case in light of the evidence from the more recent reports, I have changed my opinion and now believe the Freiberg skull deserves to be considered in discussions of evidence for extreme human antiquity.


Michael A. Cremo is the author, with Richard Thompson, of the underground classic, Forbidden Archeology: The Hidden History of Human Race. He has also written Human Devolution: A Vedic Alternative to Darwin’s Theory. Visit

By Michael A. Cremo •