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Hoping To Unravel Secrets

There are 1,284 naturally mummified and partially skeletonised bodies stacked along its crypts and chambers dating as far back as the 1590. Mummies of 163 children have also been found in the underground cemetery. The cemetery of an ancient monastery in Italy was originally intended to be the resting place for adults. Hence, mummies of so many children have surprised the researchers.

The Capuchin Catacombs monastery in Palermo, Northern Sicily, the largest Mediterranean island of Italy, has triggered a curiosity among researchers in Europe and around the world. According to concerned authorities, the cemetery has the largest number (1,284) of mummies and skeletons in Europe. While the majority of those mummies were preserved in the late 16th Century, rest were preserved in the early 20th Century. Experts believe that it is one of the most important collections of mummies in the world.

Child Mummies

The Capuchin Catacombs monastery was built mainly to bury the bodies of local priests. However, the concerned authorities could not have places to bury bodies by the end of 1597. Hence, they decided to build another underground cemetery inside the monastery. The underground cemetery was built over a large area behind the main one. The bodies of the priests were kept at a hall in the oldest part of the cemetery. While women in decorative costumes and jewelry were buried in a corridor, another corridor was reserved for bodies of the male members of Palermo’s aristocratic families. A portion of the cemetery was also allocated for the burial of children.

A team of British researchers – under the leadership of Dr Kirsty Squires, Associate Professor in the School of Justice, Security and Sustainability at Staffordshire University – would examine mummies of children at the cemetery in Sicily. Dr Squires recently said that they would test those for a couple of years, using the X-ray system. According to the Staffordshire University professor, no specific information about the mummies of children is available.

Dr Kirsty Squires

Dr Squires explained: “There are many ethical considerations when researching the human remains of children. Scientists hope to solve the mystery of 163 child mummies. The Capuchin Catacombs comprise one of the most important collections of mummies in the world. However, there is very little documentary evidence about the children who were granted mummification and the death records from the period contain limited information. Our study will rectify this knowledge gap.” She further said: “We have a fairly good idea that they were from the upper ranks of society, but we don’t know much more about juvenile health, development, or identity during this period. This project will provide essential data to determine which children were afforded mummification and to put this into a broader context. Determining whether children buried in the Catacombs suffered environmental stresses on their body can inform us of living conditions and the environments in which they lived.” “This will be compared with the biological attributes of children buried elsewhere in Palermo who were not afforded mummification,” insisted the lead researcher.

Male Mummies

After the initial construction and related allocation processes, a new cemetery was built at the monastery in Sicily. During the excavation of the old cemetery for construction works, 45 mummies were recovered, and those were preserved in a natural way. Surprisingly, all of them were in fine condition. The priests used to believe that there was a hand of God in it. As they decided to exhibit those mummies, several corridors were constructed in the new cemetery to showcase those 45 mummies. One could reach the main museum through those corridors. Children had been allowed to be buried in the cemetery in 1787. Dr Squires claimed that extensive research had been done on mummies and skeletons of adults. However, it may be said that adequate care was not taken till date, to have a in-depth analysis of the child-mummies.

Dr Squires believes that those children were members of elite families, although she did not elaborate on what basis she made such a claim. She informed the media that those mummies would be analysed in a different way, instead of autopsy or mutilation. She explained that a total of 574 digital images of each mummy would be taken through radiographs… from the head to toe. This way, 41 (out of 163) child-mummies of the 19th Century would be examined, for a start.

Capuchin Catacombs monastery

This analysis shall help researchers to discover how the child-mummies had secured their places next to those of the adults. Researchers shall also try to find out the cause of their deaths. Hence, researchers shall also examine the bodies of children buried in cemeteries elsewhere in Palermo, stressed Dr Squires.

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