Scientists hope to discover the secrets of Sicilian children's bodies

"I want to make sure that their stories and their existence on this planet are not forgotten," said one researcher.


Little is known about the more than 160 babies buried in the world-famous Catacombs Capuchin of Palermo, Sicily, and why their small, often immersed bodies were placed there in the first place.

Now, a team of researchers is preparing to unveil some of their long-held mysteries.

Using X-ray technology, researchers hope to gain a better understanding of children's lifestyles and ages, according to Kirsty Squires, chief investigator and associate professor of bioarcheology at England's Staffordshire University, who is leading international research.

The project, the first to focus entirely on children who died between 1787 and 1880, will look at evidence of disability, trauma and disease, he wrote in an email on Wednesday.

"We looked at the cause of death, the living conditions at the time of death, and the development," he added. "No one has ever looked at corpses to better understand these qualities before."

Visitors walk past the mutilated corpses kept at the Capuchin Capacin in Palermo, Sicily.Alessandra Tarantino / AP

The Capuchin Capacombs of Palermo, the largest collection of dried fossils in Europe, contain about 1,284 immersed and slightly skeletal bodies, say researchers - some are well preserved.

They are part of the Sicilian heritage and are displayed by the general public and visitors, but questions remain about the children buried there, and the death records contain only limited information.

Researchers will look at 41 bodies stored in a so-called children's cave in caves. At least 163 children's bodies are being kept at the cemetery, but Squires said they focused only on those accessible.

Researchers will scan each mother's head and toes to examine their bones, help determine age, and dental fossils and any soft tissue residues in the pelvic area to determine sex.

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The findings will then be compared to placing the deceased in the children's room, along with their clothes and funeral items so they can better understand who they are in life and death, Squires said.

X-rays will not harm children 's bodies, researchers said.

DEC. 29, 20210n-invasive, and since corpses can be removed from the crypt, this is the only way possible, "Dario Piombino-Mas expert, project researcher and biologist at Vilnius University of Lithuania, wrote in an email.

The project is set to begin next week, the researchers said.

Embalmed bodies and fossils that live in many Catacombs areas, cracks and corridors are one of the most important collections of corpses in the world.

The cemetery was originally reserved for Capuchin order monks, but later for members of the public.

It is now a landmark and a popular tourist destination. Visitors can pay as little as $ 3.40 to visit cemeteries and see corpses.

One of the bodies of children buried in cemeteries once examined by researchers is Rosalia Lombardo, who died of pneumonia at the age of two in 1920.