CAIRO – 24 November 2022: Italy is famous for many things, but did you know that it is also famous for mummies? Especially the Mummies of Venzone.
It is a group consisting of more than forty mummies that were found in Italy in the seventeenth century. Although these naturally preserved mummies are similar to other mummies found around the world, archaeologists were baffled when they discovered so many in one place. How were so many of them so naturally preserved?
Workers discovered Venzone's first mummy in 1647, in a 14th-century tomb located below the city's cathedral. They were renovating the cathedral to increase its size, when they discovered the remains of a man preserved in an underground crypt. Archaeologists estimate that this first mummy dates back to the 1300s.
When the tomb was first built, the man’s body was completely dried, leaving a total weight of about 33 pounds (14.9 kg). He also had a hunched back, and therefore was nicknamed "The Hunchback". Workers at the cathedral left the mummy there at the time, as they had no way of exhuming it or formally analyzing it, according to ancient-origins.
Additional mummies have been discovered in the following decades, all weighing between 22 and 44 pounds (9.9 to 19.9 kg). The mummies were not exhumed until the 19th century, when trained archaeologists moved them from the crypt to the upper chapel. From there, many of them were taken to the Cabinet of the University of Padua, the Vienna Museum, and the Chapel for the Invalids in Paris for further analysis.
Analysis of the mummies determined that mummification took place within the first year after burial. The mummies had little to no decay, but were completely devoid of fluid and had dry, papery skin. Experts who analyzed the mummies began to formulate the reasons for mummification, since the bodies had little to no decay after dehydration. Because of the limited information available, they come to a few different conclusions.
Others had doubts about this conclusion. Some have speculated that there wasn't enough fungus inside the coffins or on the bodies to fully preserve them.
These individuals state that the mummies were buried in a tomb with limestone floors, and claim that this may have been the cause of the mummification seen in these bodies. The second reason is that fungus was found on the walls of the tomb and the wooden coffins that housed the bodies, which led to this hypothesis. The researchers noted that the fungus is able to absorb large amounts of liquid, which can dehydrate and keep the corpses in their proper condition.
To this day, the exact reason for the mummification of these bodies is largely unknown. Although fungi and limestone have been hypothesized to be causes, researchers have yet to come to a definitive conclusion.