Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Tale from an Italian crypt

The discovery of a mummified body in the crypt of the church of the Holy Trinity in Popoli, Italy was a challenge because of the narrow space in which the male body lay. The age of the church, which was built in the 18th century, and the style of his clothes, suggested to us that the mummy was laid to rest in the 1800s.
When we investigated it, we found a kidney stone, which was truly surprising. Kidney stones, or calculi, often arise from an obstruction or infection of the urinary tract. Given the size of our mummy's stone, he probably suffered back pain and excruciating intermittent pain in the kidney area. He may have also suffered chills, fever and abdominal swelling.
When Dr Luca Ventura analysed the stone, he found that it was composed of calcium oxalate and calcium phosphate, which is typical. If this stone did obstruct the flow of urine, infection and renal failure may have played a part in the man's death.
The mummy, which – judging by his dress – was of upper-class origins, also had several fractured ribs which had healed. The rest of his skeleton, particularly his long bones, appeared to be thin-walled, not robust, suggesting a sedentary lifestyle. Could these rib fractures have been the result of an upper-class activity such as a hunting or riding accident?
Another interesting finding was calcification in the diaphragm. This suggests an infection such as tuberculosis. Death in the 19th century was often the result of an acute infection such as pneumonia, which could be caused by tuberculosis.


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