Saturday, February 18, 2012

Dario's latest

I continue to be awestruck by the work (and envious of the access) of my friend Dario Piombino-Mascali! He is a senior researcher at the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Italy, where "Ötzi" - who has now been given a lifelike face - is curated; he has examined the extremely well-preserved mummy of Rosalia Lombardo in Palermo, Sicily, and hunted down the elusive formula used by her embalmer; and now he has unraveled the secrets behind the stunning busts petrified in the 19th c. by anatomist Giovan Battista Rini (slideshow here). Chemical analyses and CT scans reveal that Rini (1795-1856) achieved his remarkable results with "an enormous amount of mercury" and other heavy metals including potassium, iron, barium, and arsenic, causing the body tissues to harden. "They have a wooden consistency," describes Dario, who goes on to say, "These chemical substances...would have saturated the piece and made it stone-like." Since a simple chemical bath wouldn't have been enough to fully preserve internal tissues, he and his colleagues are convinced that both immersion and injection techniques were used. Before the busts were submerged, skin and subcutaneous tissue was removed using surgical tools and possibly maggots. Research (read it in its entirety here) showed that the mummies' original eyes, though shrunken, had survived behind the prosthetic eye caps. Hair had also been added for realism. The 8 preparations (5 heads with necks, 2 busts and a heart) - in various stages of "anatomical undress" - were stored in the Pathology Division of Desenzano Hospital in Brescia, Italy. Intended for teaching and study, they exhibited the muscles, airways, blood vessels, and other inner workings. While some of the bodies that Rini petrified came from the hospital, others belonged to outlaws. There are plans to display the antique anatomical specimens "BodyWorlds"-style in a Salò museum.

Photographs by Dario Piombino-Mascali of EURAC are published on-line in advance of print publication in "The anatomical collection of Giovan Battista Rini (1795–1856): A paleoradiological investigation" by S. Panzer, A. Carli, A.R. Zink, and D. Piombino-Mascali in Clinical Anatomy by Wiley-Liss. The 1st image is described as an adult male with grey to brown hair and beard who was prepared by performing a craniotomy to preserve a median osseous strip, and cutting the galea into 4 pieces and turning it down laterally. The vasculature preserved includes the common and internal carotid arteries, middle cerebral arteries, anterior cerebral arteries, vertebral arteries, basilar artery, superior cerebellar arteries, bilateral superior sagittal sinus, transverse and sigmoid sinus, straight sinus, and multiple extracranial veins. The 2nd image is an adult female with long grey hair whose left intracranial internal carotid artery, bilateral transverse and sigmoid sinus, straight sinus, and superior sagittal sinus were preserved.

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