National Geographic : 2009 Feb
• X RAY: ALBERT ZINK; SEDECAL/CANON MEDICAL DIVISION PHOTO: GIANLUCA COLLA X-Ray Insights At age two Rosalia Lombardo died of pneumonia and was embalmed. That was in 1920. Today her mummified body rests in a glass-fronted coffin in the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo (page 133), looking so lifelike that, until recently, some locals believed she must be a doll. To check the extent of Rosalia's preservation, researchers wanted to peek beneath the sheet covering most of her body. But they did not want to open the coffin and risk damaging her. X-rays (one, at left) revealed that the body is undeniably real and phenom- enally intact, its organs in excellent shape. Experts credit the dryness of the catacombs, formaldehyde in the embalming fluid, and another ingredient, now rarely used. Petrified by zinc, Rosalia's body shows only minor signs of age, such as darkened skin from exposure to air or light. With details from the x-rays, researchers hope to keep her in good condition. ---Karen E. Lange FOLLOW UP | SICILY'S MUMMIES Researcher Dario Piombino-Mascali x-rays Rosalia's sealed coffin in the Palermo catacombs. CAUSE OF DEATH Tests on tissue samples from mummies in Savoca, Sicily, show that people whose bodies were placed in that crypt during the 1800s suffered from ill- nesses that once plagued only the rich. Forestier disease This rare degenerative arthritis is more apt to strike people over 50 and is linked to obesity and diabetes. Gout A metabolic arthritis tied to protein-rich diets, it mainly affects older men.