Why Does This Child Mummy Appear to Open and Close Her Eyes?

In the catacombs of Sicily, there's a creepy mummy of a two-year-old girl who appears to open and close her eyes on a regular basis. Here's how an Italian anthropologist solved the mystery of this little "sleeping beauty". (Hint: she's not actually undead.)

BEC CREW
22 SEP 2014
 

Little Rosalia Lombardo was only two years old when she died from pneumonia in 1920. Her father was so heartbroken at the loss of his daughter that he asked a local embalmer and taxidermist, Alfredo Salafia, to mummify her.

Now on display with thousands of other mummies in the Capuchin Catacombs under Sicily's Capuchin Convent, Rosalia has gained the reputation of being one of the world’s best preserved mummies. But that’s not all this little “sleeping beauty” has gained a reputation for. Every day, Rosalia appears to move her eyelids to reveal the bright blue eyes beneath, and for decades no one could figure out how this could be.

 

Here’s a time-lapse of what it looks like:

Then finally, in 2009, anthropologist and curator of the Capuchin Catacombs, Dario Piombino-Mascali, debunked the myth of Sicily’s beautiful blonde-haired mummy child. “It’s an optical illusion produced by the light that filters through the side windows, which during the day is subject to change,” he told reporters.

Piombino-Mascali made this discovery when he noticed that the mummy’s case had been moved by workers at the museum, which caused her to shift slightly, allowing him to see her eyelids better than ever before. “They are not completely closed, and indeed they have never been,” he said.

According to Rossella Lorenzi at Discovery News, Piombino-Mascali also managed to figured out the mysterious formula used for Rosalia’s impeccable preservation. When Salafia died in 1933, he took the secret of his preserving chemicals to the grave, and for decades no one could figure out how Rosalia could be so perfectly intact after all these years.

"While most of the mummies buried in the catacombs were treated by the monks and basically desiccated by the dry environment, Rosalia was mummified artificially,” says Lorenzi. "In 2009 Piombino-Mascali found a handwritten manuscript in which Salafia listed the ingredients used to mummify Rosalia. The formula read: 'one part glycerin, one part formalin saturated with both zinc sulfate and chloride, and one part of an alcohol solution saturated with salicylic acid'.”

An experienced embalmer and taxidermist, Salafia just had to mix up this concoction and inject it into little Rosalia’s body via a single, tiny hole. The mixture then got to work, with the formalin killing all the bacteria, the glycerin ensuring that her body didn’t desiccate, and the salicylic acid wiping out any fungi in the flesh. The role of the zinc salts, says Lorenzi at Discovery News, was to petrify Rosalia’s body.

Now that Piombino-Mascali has solved the mystery of Rosalia’s preservation and creepy eyes, he hopes that guests of the catacombs can enjoy their curious child mummy without making up “totally unfounded stories” about her.

Source: Discovery News

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