Optical Illusion: Child Mummy Opens And Closes Her Eyes
June 28, 2011 --
Hundreds of bodies stacked one of top of the other emerged during restoration work in the church of Roccapelago, a remote mountain village in north-central Italy. About one-third of the mass grave, consisting of 281 bodies of adults, infants and children, turned out to be mummies. "We found about 100 mummies. We can say that an entire community, who lived here from the mid-16th to the 18th centuries, has been naturally mummified. This is quite unique," Donato Labate and colleagues from the Archaeological Superintendency of Emilia Romagna said.
Paolo Terzi /SBAER
Found in the crypt of the church, the mummies have hands clasped in prayer and feature intact skin, tendons, and hair. The bodies were unearthed fully dressed with tunics, thick socks and caps.
Paolo Terzi /SBAER
According to Iolanda Silvestri and Marta Cuoghi Costantini, ancient textile experts of the Institute for Cultural and Artistic Heritage of Emilia-Romagna, the clothes reveal a simple lifestyle. "Forget silk or elaborate embroidery, these people were dressed for the mountains," the researchers said. Made from wool, linen and cotton of different thickness,the clothes often featured simple laces with geometrical patterns at the wrists and neck.
The mummified bodies were accompanied by various personal items such as rings, necklaces, religious medallions and crucifixes in various materials -- gold, silver, wood, stone and glass. The archaeologists also found some mummified mice, which probably died because of the toxic miasma generated by the mass burial.
The archaeologists also unearthed a well preserved letter. Known as "lettera componenda," it was supposed to serve as a sort of an agreement between God and the deceased. In the letter, the dead person asks for five pardons in exchange of prayers. The letter was found buried within the crypt and had probably been placed over one of the bodies.
Two openings in the church's wall ensured a constant airing within the crypt and helped the process of natural mummification. The researchers believe that the crypt was initially used as a traditional grave, with bodies buried in the ground. In a later period, dead people -- fully dressed and wrapped in bags or shrouds -- were dropped from a trap door in the floor of the church above.
Many bodies were found in very unusual postures. According to the researchers, the odd positions are due to the dropping from opening above. Most of the bodies were found stacked to form a pyramid. The top of this pyramid pile was in correspondence with the trap door above.
Study of the mummies, which has already started, reveals that several individuals were hard workers. Further investigations will try to shed light on the community’s lifestyle, the diet, diseases and hygiene. Research will include analysis of pathological conditions, osteological and histological examinations, investigations of teeth, DNA analysis, as well as the creation of 3D facial reconstruction of some of the most interesting mummies.
According to the researchers, the investigation is particularly interesting because it involves a small and rather isolated community of people whose lives centered around the church of Conversione di San Paolo Apostolo in Roccapelago, in the middle of the Emilia Romagna Apennines. At the end of the study, some mummies will be displayed in the church. The other bodies will be moved from the laboratory in Ravenna where they are now being examined, and buried within the grounds of the 16th century church.
Italian researchers have debunked morbid claims that a child mummy in Sicily opens and closes her eyes every day.
Recorded in time lapse photos and videos, the creepy phenomenon has been the subject of various speculations for some years. This week, Italian newspapers again reported that Rosalia Lombardo, a two-year-old girl who died of pneumonia in 1920, moves her eyelids several times during the day, slightly opening them to reveal intact blue eyes.
One of the world’s best preserved mummies, Rosalia is the most famous among some 8,000 thousands mummies lining the catacombs beneath the Capuchin convent in Palermo, Sicily.
Nicknamed “sleeping beauty,” she looks like a 2-year-old baby taking a nap. Poking above a blanket, her peaceful face is framed by curly blond hair, while a ribbon is still tied around her head.
Although amazingly mummified, Rosalia doesn’t open and shut her eyes.
“It’s an optical illusion produced by the light that filters through the side windows, which during the day is subject to change,” Dario Piombino-Mascali, curator of the Capuchin Catacombs, said in a statement Thursday.
He noted the mummy was moved slightly and shifted to a horizontal position in a humidity-free glass coffin.
The new position makes it easier see Rosalia’s eyelids.
“They are not completely closed, and indeed they have never been,” Piombino-Mascali said.
The anthropologist unearthed Rosalia’s real secret in 2009, when he found the mysterious formula used for her amazing preservation.
While most of the mummies buried in the catacombs were treated by the monks and basically desiccated by the dry environment, Rosalia was mummified artificially.
To preserve her for eternity, Rosalia’s heartbroken father turned to embalmer Alfredo Salafia, a Sicilian taxidermist and embalmer who died in 1933. Salafia never revealed the chemicals used in his preservative.
In 2009 Piombino-Mascali found a handwritten manuscript in which Salafia listed the ingredients used to mummify Rosalia. The formula read: “one part glycerin, one part formalin saturated with both zinc sulfate and chloride, and one part of an alcohol solution saturated with salicylic acid.”
The procedure was very simple, consisting of a single point injection without any drainage or cavity treatment.
The concoction worked perfectly. Formalin killed bacteria, glycerin kept her body from overdrying, salicylic acid killed fungi, while zinc salts basically petrified Rosalia’s body.
The new glass case will help preserve Rosalia for many more years.
“It was designed to block any bacteria or fungi. Thanks to a special film, it also protects the body from the effects of light,” Piombino-Mascali said.
He hopes that from now on tourists will stop taking pictures and making up “totally unfounded stories” about the child mummy.
Image: The mummy of Rosalia Lombardo allegedly opening and closing her eyes. Credit: via Google images.