Wednesday, August 14, 2019

A permanent "Observatory for the Mummified Heritage of Sicily" is now active in Santa Lucia del Mela!

Here is our new board (as officially established on March 14, 2019) as well as members of the team! Check that out!


Dario Piombino-Mascali, VU, Lithuania

Scientific board:


Karl Jan Reinhard, UNL, USA

Albert Zink, Eurac, Italy

Salima Ikram, AUC, Egypt

Dong Hoon Shin, University of Seoul, South Korea

Clara Urzì, University of Messina, Italy

Ronald Beckett, Quinnipiac University, USA

Hendrik Poinar, McMaster University, Canada
Jens Klocke, HAWK, Germany

Stephanie Panzer, Trauma Center Murnau, Germany

Nicholas Marquez-Grant, Oxford University, UK


Cristoforo Pomara, University of Catania, Italy

Research associates:


Mari Toppinen, University of Helsinki, Finland

Johnica Morrow, SDSMT, USA

Elisa Pucu de Araujo, FIOCRUZ, Brazil

Frank Ruhli, ZEM, Switzerland

Wilfried Rosendahl, REM, Germany

Kirsty Squires, Staffordshire University, UK

Heather Gill-Frerking, NTK Services, CA

Frank Maixner, Eurac, Italy

Angela Stienne, University of Leicester, UK

Charlene Greenwood, Keele University, UK 

Kenneth Nystrom, SUNY, USA

Amanda Rollins, Wilmington College, USA

Scientific collaborators:

Alessandra Morrone, Tartu University, Estonia

Enrico Maria Sapienza, ICR, Rome

Haley Carr, Syracuse University, Syracuse, USA 


Teresa Nicolosi, University of Bologna, Italy


Legal consultant:

Alessandra De Matteis

Press officer:

Alessia Franco

Monday, August 6, 2018

Thursday, August 2, 2018


Ciao!  It’s Amber again, here to tell you about our day.  Today was a hot one, so we spent most of the day in the crypt.  Kyler Hirte and I are doing an experiment on humidity in the crypt.  We want to see if tourism affects decomposition rates on mummies so we have been monitoring the crypt every 24 hours and before and after people are in the crypt.  We set up hygrometers in four different areas.  One is near the entrance, another is at the far end on the alter, one is by the window where the coffins are located, and one is at the other end of the crypt.  So far, we are seeing significant changes.  Meanwhile, our professor, Dr. Karl Reinhard, and his teaching assistant, Ruth Grady, were using a forensic vacuum to test the air for fungal spores.

Checking humidity

Today, we continued analyzing the mummies’ biological profiles.  Then, we were each assigned two ossuaries, a container or box where skeletal remains are placed, to examine.  We learned how to differentiate males from females, approximate age at death, and how to identify paleopathologies, ancient diseases, just by looking at the bones and teeth.  Studying the mummies’ biographies allows us to learn about their past health, hygiene, and culture.  The pelvis and skull are most useful for morphological sexing.  When both are available, the accuracy rate is approximately 97%.  Long bones, teeth and DNA are also used to determine sex.  

The remains were moved to ossuaries after flooding damaged the mummies.  The crypt was cleaned and renovated.  I examined ossuary niche #16 and niche #2.  I discovered niche #16 had the remains of two individuals.  One was a subadult under the age of four according to the dentition, lack of fused bones and sutures.  The other bones belonged to an adult with osteoarthritis.  Niche #2 held the remains of a mature male with what appeared to be arthritis.  We saw many different and unique traits among the mummies we examined which gave us insight to how these individuals lived.  Their bones tell a story and we feel very privileged to be able to take a look and learn about each of them.  
Amber sampling the dust

We had a lecture from Dr. Dario Piombino-Mascali on Forensic Anthropology and Death, Decay and Reconstruction.  
Examining the remains
Now, for another granita!
Buona giornata
August 1st, 2018

Ciao! My name is Vanessa Reiser and I am a second-year student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I am currently studying biological sciences on a pre-medicine track and minoring in dance. I stumbled upon this education abroad opportunity when researching programs that had a science focus. The Sicily Mummy Field School was the perfect fit because I have been interested in mummies since I was in third grade. This is also my first time out of the United States and I feel so blessed to be in Sicily for this incredible experience. Today we took a short bus ride from Santa Lucia del Mela into the city of Milazzo. Our first stop was to look at the Neolithic village located near the Cimitero Comunale di Milazzo.

The prehistoric settlement

What is left is an archaeological site containing what remains of a prehistoric hut. Further down the street, through the Cypress trees characteristic of Italy, we came across a hill with the Old Cathedral perched at the top. It dates back to 1607 and was replaced by a cathedral in the lower town where politics and administration were more prevalent. From here, we moved on to find the Santuario di San Francesco di Paola. San Francesco is depicted in the paintings there to be healing a man struck by lightning, outlining the face of a deformed child, and more. This sanctuary also houses the Miracle Stones, which are said to be the foundation of the church. Our last stop before lunch was to the Antiquarium di Milazzo.

Different types of burials in Milazzo

This museum has many rooms full of Greek and Roman pottery all found in Sicily. One room showed the different types of burials performed in the past. Everything from cremation, burials in large vases, tombs, and huts made of angled concrete slabs is displayed. The day ended with a quick stroll along the seaside before heading back to Santa Lucia del Mela for the night. Ciao Milazzo!

The view of the city

One of Milazzo's beautiful churches
July 31st, 2018

Hi! My name is Taylor Pitzer. I am going to be a senior at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln. I am studying Forensic Science and Entomology with minors in Biology, Chemistry, and Psychology. With this, I hope to be a crime scene investigator. 

Today was a lot of fun! First we had lectures by Alessandra over paleopathology which is the study of old diseases that people would have had. We then went over trauma which is super interesting to me to see how one can tell what happened and if it was before or after death. 

After lecture we all went down to the crypt to dive right in to observing the mummies. We got seven adults and two sub adults to look at. The top two stores had dust on the top glass which we collected to look at later when back in Nebraska. The goal is to see if the dust is from inside the crypt or getting in from the outside.

One of the mummies
With the mummies, in pairs, we each examined the sex and age estimations of each mummy. Then as a duo we investigated different paleopathologies and made observations of clothing, soft tissue, insect activity, and of mold was present at all.

After the crypt we had a small break and then headed to a welcoming ceremony. At this ceremony the group met a philanthropist that was helping restore frescoes in the churches. There was also a meeting where people could ask questions and learn about what we are doing here and what we hope to accomplish. Afterwards Carmelina made a feast for dinner! All the people at the meeting stayed and ate with us. There were over ten things to try and all very authentic meals, nice was nice to try. Overall it was a wonderful day learning about the town more and the history of it with the crypt and ceremony. 
The opening ceremony
July 30th, 2018

A view of Santa Lucia

Hello! My name is Joselynne Macias. I’m an Anthropology, Spanish, and French undergraduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 
Today was July 30th and, like most days, we started it off with a few early morning lectures to give us some background on what we might be finding on the mummies, as we get ready to enter the crypt situated below the convent here in Santa Lucia del Mela.
Dr. Karl Reinhard gave an interesting lecture over taphonomy, reflecting on some of his work with the Chinchorro mummies from Peru. The Chinchorro mummies were found in fardos (in fetal position, bound in cloth with a variety of tools). Many mummies had previously been destroyed by huaqueros (grave robbers).

We also got a little intro on parasites today, too. We put some samples collected by Dr. Reinhard of pieces of scalp and hair from the mummies in Peru under a microscope for examples of nits and lice.

Alessandra Morrone, a student of Dr. Dario Piombino-Mascali, gave a lecture on an overview of paleopathology, particularly things that we may find on the mummies in the crypt. It was a good refresher on previous osteology courses I’ve taken and I thoroughly enjoyed it, as a fan of bones. Good job, Alessandra!
At lunch today, we had some priests visiting to have lunch with us so that they can personally meet all the students taking part in the field school. I felt very privileged to meet them, and it served as a reminder that the work we’re preparing to do with these mummies is important to the community here in Santa Lucia. 
The crypt

Today was also our first time going down to take a look at the crypt located below the convent.

We were told a little bit about the history behind the crypt and the terrible flood that left much of the crypt in disarray and damaged the mummies within. Luckily, a lot of work has since been done to restore them and the appearance of the crypt. I’m incredibly excited to officially begin our work in the crypt, and I want to learn as much as I can throughout this field school. I’ve already learned so much from everyone, and I hope to be able to contribute to this project.
The sunset from the convent

We’ve been in Sicily a week now and each day it seems to get more beautiful. The weather has been in our favor and though it’s a bit of a climb, I’ll never get tired of the view.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

July 29th, 2018


Hi everyone! My name is Kelley Stilwell. I’m going to be a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and I’m studying Forensic Science with minors in Chemistry, Math, and Political Science. Although today is the fifth day of the field school, a couple of the other girls and I went to Dublin and Rome. So for us, it’s actually Day 12.

Today, we went to the town of Piraino. Piraino is a small mountain town of roughly 4,000 people on the east corner of the island. (It’s roughly 81 miles east of Palermo and 37 miles west of Messina for the geographically inclined. 

The view from Piraino

When stepping off the bus, we were greeted with the hot, humid, Sicilian air we are slowly getting accustomed to. We had a short walk to the local church where our mummy studies of the day would begin. While waiting for our guide, Marcello Mollica, one of our teachers, Dario, and fellow student Amber Knight played some classics on the piano. Both were very shy about it, but they eventually started taking requests. Our guide arrived as the church was getting ready to start service. Apparently, churches have services on Sundays. Who knew?

In order to make the most out of the day, we walked to the local bar and ordered some granite. There Marcello began telling us about the crypts and the local legend of the martyr buried there. In 1544,  Giovanni Scolarici was killed during a raid while defending sacred documents from invaders. His remains were lost, but the locals still hold his name close to their hearts for his sacrifice.  
The cross inside the church

The crypt itself was build in 1771. It’s made up of three main rooms. One is an embalming chamber, the other two hold spots for bodies to lay. Originally, there were 32 bodies but six disappeared. Today, Marcello studies 26 of them. 

Once the service was over, we were able to view the mummies for ourselves. The staircase down was steep and narrow. Priests had to carry bodies down this in order to get it to an embalming chamber which wasn’t much bigger. In order to get into the room, I had to duck. The rooms where the bodies were kept were bigger but that’s only because the coffins had been removed. If the coffins were still in the room, I would have had to shimmy around the outskirts. 

We didn’t stay down in the crypt for very long since we had such a large group with us. Marcello has some other people with him who also wanted to see the mummies. Climbing the stairs back up, we waited for everyone to have their change to get up close and personal with the dead. During this time, the BBC showed up to conduct their interviews with Karl and Dario.

Once everyone had their fill of mummies, Karl and Dario went to do their interviews. Alessandra took the rest of us to some sightseeing towers and some lookout points. The views were incredible! 

Us in Piraino

But not as incredible as the people I get to travel with ;)

Once the interviews were done, we went to the beach. The water was the one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. It was crystal clear and even when the sand was 10 feet below, I could still make out details on the floor. It was exactly what we needed after a long hot day.

Piraino beach

Although, the field school isn’t exactly what I expected, I couldn’t ask for a better experience. I’m learning a lot about Catholicism and the importance of mummification in Sicilian culture. I couldn’t ask for a better set of instructors or a better set of travel mates. They have made this experience truly unforgettable.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Saturday, July 28th

Hello, my name is Briana Cravens. I am an undergraduate studying forensic science with a focus in biochemistry at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 

On Saturday July 28th, Dario Piombino-Mascali took the group to the Basilica Concattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta. There we learned about how the church is directly owned by the Vatican which makes it richer and more privileged. 
The main altar

When people of the church would pass away they wanted to be buried as close as they could to the sacred relics (saint) as they could in the church. This is also referred to as Ad Sanctos or “Buried next to the Saints”. The nuns would occasionally open the bodies from the back and remove their organs. When examining the gallbladder they found three stones that they believed represented the holy trinity. Other types of preservation included anointing the body with perfumed oils, filling the body with preserved materials or excarnation. Nitrogen is very good for preserving heritage. Also, low humidity helps better preserve the body. 
The blessed Antonio Franco from Naples

Catholic remains are very important in Italy because they provide a lot of information on saints and religion. Different saints are shown with different items (symbol). I learned that each city can be represented by a saint, but often more than one city have the same saint. Also, different churches in each city and have their own saint. Three different ways to approach the study of saints: bodies, paintings, and biographies. Paintings and biographies can be bias while the bodies are not. 
The apse of the church

Keep checking on the page to see what the group is up to the rest of the week! Thank you!