After nearly a century in
relative obscurity, Sicilian mummies have now been given
the attention they deserve They have a cultural significance and
they have a religious significance as well and for me, and for the
scientific community, they also bear a wealth of biological and
medical information. Yeah, but why do you love me? Because we’ve known each other forever? I mean in the film you idiot. Don’t know, here it just says we’re a couple
of young nobles very much in love but then you die of tuberculosis. I love palaeopathology. That is recognising the different diseases that
mummies might of had during their lifetime. My favourite mummy is Piraino number one,
from the Piraino crypts. Analysis of these remains show that the priest died of cancer, probably in autumn.
In his last days he enjoyed a rich diet, had access to sophisticated
medicine, but nevertheless had the highest concentration of whipworm
on record. I look at parasites in mummies as a little mummy within a mummy because there’s oftentimes a juvenile worm within its egg, within a mummy,
within a sarcophagus. So that’s kind of cool. Even tiny parasites can give us a glimpse into the lives of ancient people. For example, these lice eggs known as knits, found in
1,000-year-old Peruvian mummies are much more abundant in men, who had their
hair braided and wore hats, but much less common in women, and even
less so in children. Probably due to the attention lavished upon them
by their nitpicking parents. So when you analyse a population of mummies,
then you have a health history, dietary history that goes with an individual of a known sex,
known age, known status, known culture. So the mummies therefore become a
nice statistical population from which one can derive epidemiological data. So they allow you to transport back in time to reconstruct the mundane parts
of life like food, which was actually really important of course. And that’s the whole point of archaeology
is to reconstruct the culture, and the mummies are
a mechanism of doing that. Every year the students and
researchers at the mummy school undertake new research to help them
better understand Sicilian mummies This year we’ll be air sampling for
fungal spores and we’re also doing 3D architecture scans to understand
the airflow that answers the new question, how did people make mummies
in ancient times and what is causing the mummies to decompose today. Some of the crypts have been modified
for example the staircase over there, the airflow has changed, and with the change in
airflow it has affected some of the preservation of the mummies. And here we have tissue preservation. And this is where you can get…
And which one’s better for samples? I would say this one because here you can get soft tissue, as well as bone
samples in case you wanted, and I wouldn’t bother to sample those that
are completely preserved, because I would feel like I’m breaking something.
We have to make sure they last for future generations as witnesses of the past. Thanks for everything. Bye thanks. Bye. You sure I can’t give you a lift? Yeah sure let’s do it another time. OK. But let’s keep in touch this time. OK. Look forward to it. Bye Bye. What’s it like for you as a researcher,
looking death in the face in this way, I mean most people shy away
from thinking or talking about death. These people died so much time
ago that sometimes we feel they are far away from us, but simply because the fact that
they are dead, doesn’t erase the humanity that they had before.
They were people like us, they had lives, they had friends and family
members who loved them. This is probably why I’m not scared of them.
I feel like we are sharing something. You got a spare helmet? Yeah sure. Where do you want to go? Doesn’t matter.