Sicilian Mummies!

I am a Biological Anthropology major, and as a requirement we have to take ANP 203 – Introduction to Archaeology. What we learned in the first week or so of this class, ANP 264, was review of ANP 203. I am very happy I took ANP 203 first because it really allows me to appreciate the hard work that went into making all of these remarkable discoveries. Speaking of discoveries, I love to read National Geographic Magazine for their wide array of captivating articles. With all of this talk about Ancient Egypt, I can’t stop thinking about mummies! I came across an article about Sicilian mummies that were taken from crypts and churches in Italy.

Archaeology is about understanding past cultures through analyzing their material remains. The Sicilian Mummy Project has been going on for 5 years now, and a recent discovery has allowed archaeologists to understand this culture in a different way. The Sicilians mummified their dead by letting them sit and drain of bodily fluids while surrounded by leaves and straw to maintain the shape of the body and keep down the smell. After all of the fluids had drained, they would wash the corpse in vinegar and then dress and display them. Due to their process of mummification, modern scientists were able to analyze the gastrointestinal systems of the mummies to draw conclusions about how they lived and died.

These bodies were mummified and placed in crypts because during their lives they were wealthy and/or members of the clergy. By analyzing their stomach contents, these people were blessed with a diet of meat, fish, vegetables, grains, and dairy products. This diet reflects their social status, but diseases were found that explained a lot about the mummies’ lives. A whip worm infection tells us that although these people were well-to-do, their lives involved interaction with the poor. One of the mummies actually turned out to have cancer, but was using medicinal plants not from the region to treat it. This is a remarkable finding because it shows they had and used knowledge from beyond their geographical limitations.

The Sicilian view of death has changed significantly over the centuries ranging from embracing death to ignoring it completely. The World Wars caused the people of this region viewed death as a negative event and treated their dead as such. As a result of the Sicilian Mummification Project, they began to remember that death is a part of life and it is not taboo. Just as centuries ago when mummification was a common practice in Sicily, these people are beginning to acknowledge the relationship between the living and dead once again.

Hope you enjoyed my post!

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3 thoughts on “Sicilian Mummies!

  1. I have a Sicilian lineage that can be traced all the way back to Palermo so when I saw the title of the post I had to stop and read it. My grandparents have all unfortunately all passed on by this point so I can’t ask them anything about Sicily, everything has to come out of a book. I was well aware that many other cultures practiced mummification but I had no clue they did in Sicily! I find it very interesting that even though so many cultures practiced mummification, they all had different techniques. I suppose this could simply just have something to do with different climates requiring different techniques so the whole process wasn’t a waste of time. It would be pretty cool to compare differences in the diet of Sicilians between then and now to see how it’s changed if at all. I love Italian and Sicilian foods so seeing how its evolved would give indications of how society on the island has changed over the centuries. The medicine aspect also can help show how the society changed over time. For instance, do earlier mummies show the use of a certain plant or medicine but later ones show a different treatment for the exact same ailment? So many people literally forget that Sicily is there off of Italy or don’t even know its an entirely different place. And there is a huge difference between being Italian and being Sicilian! So seeing that there was research being done makes me feel good that part of my cultural heritage is not being forgotten by the world at large. Everyone always talks about the Roman ruins throughout Italy itself. Almost no one talks about the ruins in Sicily even though there are some spectacular reminders of the ancient Roman Empire. Great article find, next blog post I’ll try to find something relating to Sicily too!

  2. I found this post very interesting because of the similarities it has to Egypt. The practice of mummification was not unique to Egypt or Sicily, but can be found in many parts of the world. With this fact in mind, it is interesting to ask why. Why would two separate cultures have the same practice? Sure, it can be argued that Sicily and Egypt are rather close, and that the practices are also slightly different. However, I feel that some true discoveries about human nature can be found from this. In almost all cultures, some practice exists to discard or make memorials of the dead. I feel that this has to do with the human instinct to be curious about life and death. If you look throughout the history of religion, it is obvious that this curiosity exists. The fact that multiple cultures would practice the same ritual of death solidifies this fact even more.
    And this is why archaeology is, at its core, a part of anthropology. Archaeology is not about the artifacts gathered, or anything about any sites. Its about what those sites mean to the nature of humans. Its about finding those similarities that all humans have, across continents and oceans. Like the mummification process, archaeologists are able to find numerous ways that humans have paid their respects to the dead. Its not about the fact that the sites exist, but instead, the fact that the sites support a greater knowledge of human nature. And through this greater knowledge of mankind, we can better understand our current culture, and the movement of our culture into the future.

  3. Wow, this was a very interesting post to read! I guess I never really thought about it, but I have always associated mummies with Ancient Egypt. I never really thought that other countries could have mummified their dead for religious, spiritual, or any other reasons. Not only that, but I have also never heard of this from anyone else! Reading this blog post really made me open my eyes and think about how our society really isn’t as educated as a lot of people, myself included, might think. It also made me realize how society as a whole sticks to the most popular story, transporting it from person to person, without even a question of whether there may be other variances of the main story, in this case being mummies. I also think it’s crazy how people always talk about mummies as associated with Egypt and never even think or question that “hey, I wonder if the other countries mummified their dead in ancient times”. And why not? It only makes sense that other places in the world would have done it. I mean Egypt doesn’t have a patent on mummification, right? I also think it’s amazing how even after so many years, we are still able to test and analyze the remains of the mummies enough to be able to tell the process of mummification, the diet of the people, and even what diseases they had. It just shows that we are all tied together in the past present and future and are meant to learn about and from humanity’s past experiences. Anyway good job on the post!

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