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Italian Mummies Analyzed to Reveal Unique Preservation Technique

"They have a wooden consistency."

Egyptians weren't the only ones with an interest in mummification. The Italians apparently used an interesting bodily preservation procedure as well -- or at least one guy did for an anatomical collection.

Mummies from the 19th century collection of anatomist Giovan Battista Rini are amazingly preserved, according to National Geographic. Researchers at the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Italy, wanted to understand how they held up so well. As you can see the technique is a bit different than Egyptian mummification -- National Geographic goes to far to call them "petrified".

Using a CT scanner, forensic anthropologist Dario Piombino-Mascali found that mercury and other heavy metals did the trick and keeping these heads so well in tact:

Intended for teaching and study, the collection was made using a method known as petrification. The technique, which substitutes organic for mineral matter, has made the specimens very hard.

"They have a wooden consistency," said Piombino-Mascali, a past grantee of the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. (The Society owns National Geographic News.)

"In Italy we had several people who petrified human cadavers" in the 19th century, he added. "Some of them really made a great job."

National Geographic reports that originally the anatomist used the heads as a teaching tool and as you've probably guessed the eyes and hair was added "long ago for realism."

Check out more of the petrified heads here.

The team's work published in the journal Clinical Anatomy is reported to be the first time Italian mummies made for teaching purposes had been studied to this level.

 

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