The mummies

The dry and ventilated enviroment of the underground rooms of the Castello Cinquecentesco de L’Aquila (the Castle of L’Aquila) consented the mummifications of the hundreds of bodies buried in an underground chapel. The bodies were then buried again in the civic cementary as ordered by the Archbishop of that period. Only four mummies (two female adults and two infants, a male and a female) were saved from the reburial, kept out of curiosity and preserved in the Museo Civico and then in the underground rooms of the Castle, in a wooden container, with a glass placed on the front of it.
A series of histological tests related to skin, musclar and bone tissues were performed on mummies by the U.O. di Anatomia Patologica dell’Ospedale San Salvatore de L’Aquila, by the Dipartimento di Scienze Ambientali dell’Università de L’Aquila e della divisione di Paleopatologia, Dipartimento di Oncologia, dei Trapianti e delle Nuove Tecnologie in Medicina dell’Università di Pisa.
Morever, under the direction of Prof. Renato Mariani-Costantini, il Dipartimento di Oncologia e Neuroscienze dell’Università “G. D’Annunzio” di Chieti mitochondrial analysis were carried out. The  mitochondrial DNA is considered by many researchers the most suitable genetic material for the reconstruction of the evolutive human history. Infact, the mithocondrions or the organelles supply energy to the cell, have their own DNA, which, differently from nuclear DNA of both paternal and maternal derivation,  is transmitted exclusevely via female DNA.
The mitochondrial DNA is much more abundant, in the number of couples per cell, than the nuclear DNA and therefore has the advantage of being better represented in biological remains.
The analysis of mitochondrial DNA is a powerful tool to reconstruct the genetic relations among human beings. The studies which were performed were able to determine the sequence of a fragment of the hyperchangeable region of the HVRI mithochondrial DNA beginning with two samples of mummifical tissue taken from two of the four mummified individuals which were found in the Castello de L’Aquila.
The data obtained indicates a convergence of the cromosomal sequences of the two individuals suggesting a possible relationsphip in the maternal line between an adult and the female infant. At the end of the radiometric analysis of the mummified bodies found in the underground rooms of the sixteenth century Castle, fragments of muscle tissue were taken from the only male infant mummy: its radiometric dating indicates that the boy at issue lived in a cronological period which goes from 1499 to 1617 AD.

The mummified bodies of the two children were surrounded by the remains of cloth, probably linen. Some traces of linen were deliberately left there.
The evolutive phase of the teeth corresponds to the age of about four for both of the children. On that subject it should be emphasized that the evolutive phase of the sets of teeth is a good indication of the age of death. Infact the correlations between the age and the mature phase of the teeth are very precise up to about 20-25 years old, that is during the phase formation and growth of the deciduous  tooth first, then the permanent ones. The date relative to the age of death of the two children is confirmed by the degree of ossification of the bones of the tarsus, visible in x-rays.
The age of death of the first female mummy is estimated based on the degree of reabsorption of the suture of the external cranial table. Infact the skull of the young individuals is made up of bones connected by means of complicated sutures which tend to disappear as age advances, until it reaches, at a mature age, a skull made up of of bones which are spindled.
The reabsorbment of the sutures of a minimum degree in the first adult mummy is visible through a lesion of the scalp (post-mortem). An x-ray was performed on the skull in which it was observed that the obstructed surface of the crown of the first molar presents a slight deterioration of the cups.
Considering that this molar is the first permanent tooth to come out, this means that there had not been much masticatory actions. These elements brings us to the conclusion that the first mummy had died between the age of 30 and 35 years old.
It was possible to estimate the age of death of the second female adult mummy both from the base of use of the teeth and by evaluating the degree of maturity of the skeleton.
Infact from the x-ray of the skull it is possible to observe that the occlusive surface of the the first lower molar does not present any wear of the cusp.
To evaluate the degree of maturity of the skeleton it is necessary to make some considerations: the human skeleton grows slowly and reaches complete maturity between 22-23 years in females, and between 23-25 years in males.
Infact in children, until the end of their growth, the single bones are made up of nucleons of separate ossifications, where the cartilage is interposal and consents the growth of the bones in length. Only subsequently the nucleus fuse together to give way to the long bones. The presence of cartilage between diaphysis  and epiphysis indicates a skeleton which is still growing. Therefore, a close chronological relationship exists between the phases of development of the ossifications of the long bones and the age of the subject.
From the x-ray of the thorax of the second adult female mummy, a line of radiotransarency which corresponds to the presence of the growth cartilage between a proximal epiphysis and the diaphysis  of the right humerus is evident.
Moreover, the cartilage of the medial extremities of the left clavicle is still partially visible. All these elements bring us to the conclusion that this last mummy was about 22 – 23 years old at the time of death. For the bodies of the two women  a cleansing procedure was carried out, removing thousands of insect larva, microrganism and remains of invertebrates. Moreover there was a procedure in emptying the thoracic cavities and part of the abdominal one, prevalently using compressed air, cleaning them of the innumerable residuals of dry plaster and particles which were alien of the bodies. An attempt was made to record as accurately as possible, those morphological particulars which could be related to the cause of death so that in the case of the male infant, lacerations were observed on the wrists, probably consequent to a violence suffered in life or immediately after death. On the first female adult particular emphasis was given to a laceration of the neck caused by the wound of a cut.  An observation not purely scientific, is to notice the delicacy of the lineaments and the composed serenity which appears from the features of the female mummy which seem calm and almost dissolve that aura of  tragedy which her last moments of life had suffered.


Tratto da: AA. VV. , Mummie: un archivio biologico, Catalogo della mostra, Teramo 2006
Taken by:   AA. VV. , Mummie: un archivio biologico, Catalogo della mostra, Teramo 2006