Children’s mummies found in Palermo catacombs

The city of Palermo, in Sicily is one of the jewels of the Mediterranean. Its sunny beaches bathed by the Tyrrhenian Sea fill this beautiful Italian city with tourists. However, many prefer it for the catacombs of Palermo in addition to monuments, churches and palaces that mark centuries of history.

catapults of Palermo
Image taken from www.dw.com
The catacombs of Palermo hold mummies of children

Although the city of Palermo contains one of the most important collections of mummies in Europe and the world. In an annex to the church Santa Maria della Pace there is a convent that belonged to the Capuchin monks. Below the convent, there is a series of catacombs containing more than 8000 dead.

Most of them are found in an upright position inside niches. About 900 corpses are mummified, others are simple skeletons hanging from ropes. Although in these same Capuchin catacombs there are also mummies of children. Inside the chambers, the corpses are arranged according to sex, age and profession. Women, men, priests, professionals, monks or children have their chambers in the catacombs.

X-ray analysis of children’s mummies

The catacombs of Palermo hold the remains of 163 children of whom there is no knowledge. They were accepted in the Capuchin catacombs from 1787. However, science has ignored them until the present. The adult mummies and skeletons were investigated for many years, but not the younger ones.

They now began to be studied using X-ray technology. A team of scientists from Staffordshire University is involved. It is a collection of children’s mummies that they never studied until today. The research will focus on children who died between 1787 and 1880. It will last two years and will start with 41 children who are in a children’s chamber that was designed “to measure”.

mummies in the catapults of Palermo
Image taken from www.dw.com
They seek to obtain information from these small mummies

There is no information on these infant bodies. Their identity, cause of death and medical history are unknown. The corpses have labels that are corroded by the years. In addition to all these unknowns, scientists hope to know why these children were mummified. There is no evidence in the documents of an authorization to mummify infant bodies. For this reason, they hope to fill this gap in knowledge about the children of the catacombs.

The death records of the time say little or nothing about it. Mummification was a funeral rite reserved only for adults. Although it is certainly known that children belonged to the highest ranks of society at the time. Although what we are trying to decipher is how they developed and how was the health of the youth in those years.

According to a report from Staffordshire University, non-invasive survey methods will be used. They will use portable X-ray equipment and take many X-rays in order to estimate the sex and age of the infant mummies. In addition to discovering if they have any injuries or pathology to determine the cause of death.

The Capuchin friars settled in the annex to the chapel Santa Maria della Pace in 1534. They buried their dead in mass graves. Although when they dug a new chamber, they found the previous bodies mummified in a natural way. That was when they decided to expose the mummified bodies as relics. It was the beginning of the catacombs we know today.

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