“I want to make sure their memories and existence on this Earth are not forgotten,” one of the specialists stated. Over 160 children are entombed in Sicily’s world-famous Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo, and nothing is known about why their minor and frequently mummified corpses were placed there in the first place.
A group of specialists is now working to solve some of the mummies’ riddles. According to Kirsty Squires, the study’s leader, principle investigator, and associate professor of bioarcheology at Staffordshire University in England, they plan to use X-ray analyses to learn more about the children’s lifestyles and ages.
According to Squires, the initiative, which is the first to focus solely on infants who died between 1787 and 1880, will look for evidence of developmental problems, trauma, and illnesses. “We’re looking for the reason of death, as well as the health conditions at the time of death and development,” she explained. “No one has ever looked at the mummies to have a better understanding of these characteristics.”
Inside the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, the largest collection of mummified skeletons in Europe, there are about 1,284 embalmed and partly skeletonized remains, some of which are fully preserved. The bodies are part of Sicily’s cultural legacy, and they are on display for the general public and visitors.
However, the technique by which the children were interred at the location remains a mystery, as death certificates only include little information. Experts plan to concentrate their efforts on 41 remains found in the caverns’ “children’s area.” More than 163 children’s bones are buried in the catacombs, but scientists mainly focus on those that are within reach, according to Squires.
Each mummies will get an X-ray scan from head to toe to study their bones, which will help determine their age, as well as any dental and soft tissue remnants in the pelvic area, which will help determine their gender. Researchers will next compare the findings to the dead’s location in the children’s room, as well as their clothing and funerary items, in order to learn more about their identity in life and death.
Squires further asserted that the bodies of the youngsters will be unharmed by the X-rays. “Imaging technologies are non-invasive, and because the mummies can’t be transferred out of the tomb, this approach is the only viable option,” said Dario Piombino-Mascali, a project co-investigator and a biological anthropologist at Vilnius University in Lithuania.
Meanwhile, specialists are planning to begin fieldwork next week. In reality, the embalmed bodies and skeletal remains found within the Capuchin Catacombs’ many niches, fissures, and tunnels are among the world’s most important mummy collections. After serving as a burial ground for Capuchin monks, the cemetery was offered to the public.
The location is now a well-known tourist attraction and a landmark. Researchers have previously examined Rosalia Lombardo, a toddler mummy buried in the catacombs who died of pneumonia when she was two years old in 1920. Her “world’s most beautiful mummy” title came from her flawlessly preserved and virtually realistic face, eyelashes, hair, and burial clothes. Lombardo was one of the last to be buried there.
The youngsters of the Capuchin Catacombs have essential stories to tell, according to Piombino-Mascali. “I was a fortunate youngster, but I am aware that other children were not so fortunate and perished young,” he remarked. “I want to ensure that their tales and presence on this planet are remembered.”