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The Skull of Robert Burns

The Skull of Robert Burns - A Curiosity?

Pictured below is a cast of the Skull of Robert Burns.

In many ways, it is almost shameful to portray the great man in this rather distasteful way, and holding the heavy plaster cast in your hands has a definite feeling of morbid curiosity. At the same time however, most who see the cast are able to set aside these naturally negative emotions, and feel a strong sense of wonder, admiration and humility.

Originally the cast was taken when Burns body was exhumed for study at the turn of the century. This is an exact plaster cast taken from the original mould, and is the property of The Irvine Burns Club, which owns some of the greatest treasures associated with Burns.

Some time after the death of Burns, and amidst growing recognition of the genius that had been lost, increasing attention was drawn to every aspect of his life. His intellectual capacity was undoubted and as such, led the medical profession of the day to consider the known physical attributes of the great man.

Great debate centred on basic biological assumptions, that great minds often carried certain characteristics ! Did Burns have a large head ? Did he have a high forehead ? Was there any other physical characteristics which could be compared with other intellectual giants? The debate went on.

When the body of Robert Burns was subsequently exhumed, permission was given to study his skull. It was at this time the cast was taken……together with every conceivable measurement and analysis known at that time. Quite frankly, the general assumptions and debate of the day were at best completely inaccurate, and at worst….totally unjustified. ( I suppose hindsight is a great thing!)

It was indeed noted that Robert Burns had a rather large head, often associated with people of superior intellect and this is evident when you see the actual cast. Whilst it is not significantly large, its size is noticeable.

So what conclusions can be drawn from this exercise? I suppose the basic facts uncovered do give some additional, albeit questionable, insight into Burns. That the cast of the Skull exists at all, does evoke a strong emotional link with something more tangible….in the same way we are drawn to other morbid curiosities.

In this instance however, we know that this was a man without equal. His story is incredible, his work exceptional, and his memory undying.

The most fitting tribute to Robert Burns is the continuity of his memory, the ever growing "fan club" that is represented in Burns Clubs throughout the world, and the symbolic use of his words and beliefs within a modern multi-cultural society.

We close this article with the words to "The Star O Rabbie Burns", a simple ballad, regularly sung in his memory and which pays great tribute to him.

The Star O Robbie Burns

There is a star whose beaming ray
Is shed on every clime
It shines by night, it shines by day,
And ne'er grows dim wi' time.

It rose upon the banks o' Ayr,
It shone on Doon's clear stream
A hundred years are gane and mair,
Yet brighter grows its beam.


Let Kings and courtiers rise and fall,
This world has many turns,
But brightly beams, abin them all,
The Star O Robbie Burns


2008 The Robert Burns World Federation