Italian mummies 'preserved in mercury for almost 200 years'

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

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.
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.

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.

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.

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