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Italian mummies preserved in mercury for 200 years

Archaeologists claim to have unearthed at least five Italian mummies preserved in mercury for almost 200 years. 

Mummification is normally associated with Ancient Egypt but has been carried out for the benefit of medical demonstrations. This skull is believed to date from the early 19th century [Credit: Daily Mail]
A team at the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano in Italy says the mummies were injected with arsenic and mercury -- or dipped in chemical baths -- to preserve them for medical demonstrations, the 'Daily Mail' reported. 

Although mummification is associated with Ancient Egypt, it was carried out through the centuries in many countries for the benefit of researchers and medical students. 

This skull had the skin stripped away and has been injected with chemicals to keep it fresh for more than 200 years [Credit: Daily Mail]
Italian anatomist Giovan Battista Rini (1795-1856) "petrified" the corpses and body parts by bathing them in a cocktail of mercury and other heavy metals, according to the archaeologists who analysed the mummies. 

They claim that the collection is in "an extremely good state of preservation". It consists of five heads with necks, two torsos and one heart. Two of the people who had their bodies frozen in time were outlaws while the others are thought to have been donated by local hospitals. 

Two of the sets of remains are believed to be the bodies of outlaws - while the rest are thought to have been donated by patients in a local hospital in Italy for medical research [Credit: Daily Mail]
The researchers carried out CT scans and x-rays on the specimens to see how they were preserved and discovered techniques broadly conformed with those used at the time. The remains were submerged in chemical baths before being injected with mercury, the 'National Geographic' magazine reported. 

In the 19th century arsenic, lime, silicon dioxide and sulphur were commonly used to preserve bodies. The exact method and substances used by Rini are unknown, but the team believes he used arsenic and mercury among other chemicals. 

Researchers have now discovered the specimens were injected with arsenic and mercury - or dipped in chemical baths to preserve them for demonstrations [Credit: Daily Mail]
Although it is not known exactly when the mummifications were carried out, it was in the first half of the 19th century as Rini lived from 1795 to 1856. The surfaces of the mummified remains were particularly thick because of the chemicals used, the researchers wrote in 'Clinical Anatomy' journal. 

Source: Deccan Herald [February 21, 2012]

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