The librarian at Sidney, the college famous for holding the skull of Oliver Cromwell, sent an email asking if students had “left, erm, a skull in a plastic bag"Louis Ashworth

A skull was found on a desk last week in the Sidney Sussex library, where it had been accidentally left by a medic using it for educational purposes.

All students at the College, famous for holding the skull of Oliver Cromwell in its Chapel, received an email from the librarian asking: “If you left, erm, a skull in a plastic bag on the First Floor, please let me know.”

The librarian expressed concern about the safekeeping of the skull, explaining in their email: “I found it precariously close to the edge of a desk this morning, and took it into the Library Office for safe keeping.”

They spoke to Varsity about their surprise: “I saw a plastic bag at the edge of a table, and when I looked inside, instead of a pencil case or a water bottle, I saw a carefully labelled artificial skull.

“There was no chance it was Cromwell’s skull (although there was a time when that skull rather got passed around) as that is now safely buried somewhere near the plaque in our ante-chapel.”

The student owner, who asked to remain anonymous, told Varsity that the placement was entirely accidental: “I only just picked it up from my college mum, it was in a plastic bag I didn’t even realise I’d left it there in the library”.

“I did not hear of anyone seeing it, he found it pretty quickly after I left it”. The librarian agreed: “I believe the artificial skull had been on the desk overnight, and I doubt anyone would have noticed it.”


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The skull, which the student is “not 100% sure” is a model but “pretty sure”, said it is viewed by medics as entirely standard: “We just see it as a learning tool, in the same way you would use flashcards…you pass it on through your [college] parents”.

The librarian agreed: “It turned out to belong to a medical student, so it was no more remarkable than an MML student leaving behind a dictionary, and not a welfare issue. Such study aids have been left in the library before.”

Oliver Cromwell’s skull was buried in a secret location in the College chapel in March 1960, after disappearing from Westminster Hall in the 1680s.

The skull scare comes as the University’s Museum of Zoology has opened a new exhibition displaying rare exploded Victorian skulls, curated by Professor Jason Head.