<p><strong>A mounted human head strikes a brain-teasing pose—just one of eight forgotten but stunningly preserved 19th-century <a href="http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/countries/italy-guide/">Italian</a> mummies whose secrets of preservation have only recently been unraveled.</strong></p><p>Working in the town of Salò, anatomist Giovan Battista Rini (1795-1856) "petrified" the corpses and body parts by bathing them in a cocktail of mercury and other heavy metals, according to new chemical analyses and CT scans, <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ca.21240/full">to be described in a future issue of the journal <em>Clinical Anatomy</em></a><em>.</em></p><p>The study marks the first time a collection of Italian mummies made for anatomy studies has been analyzed in detail, according to study team member <a href="http://www.eurac.edu/staff/dpiombinomascali/default.html">Dario Piombino-Mascali</a>, a forensic anthropologist at the <a href="http://www.eurac.edu/en/research/institutes/iceman/default.html">Institute for Mummies and the Iceman</a> in Bolzano, Italy.</p><p>(Pictures: <a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/03/pictures/110310-wet-mummy-china-ming-science-mummies-tomb-chinese-road/">"Lifelike 'Wet Mummy Found During Roadbuilding."</a>)</p><p>—<em>James Owen</em></p>

An Open Mind

A mounted human head strikes a brain-teasing pose—just one of eight forgotten but stunningly preserved 19th-century Italian mummies whose secrets of preservation have only recently been unraveled.

Working in the town of Salò, anatomist Giovan Battista Rini (1795-1856) "petrified" the corpses and body parts by bathing them in a cocktail of mercury and other heavy metals, according to new chemical analyses and CT scans, to be described in a future issue of the journal Clinical Anatomy.

The study marks the first time a collection of Italian mummies made for anatomy studies has been analyzed in detail, according to study team member Dario Piombino-Mascali, a forensic anthropologist at the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Italy.

(Pictures: "Lifelike 'Wet Mummy Found During Roadbuilding.")

James Owen

Photograph courtesy Dario Piombino-Mascali, EURAC, and Clinical Anatomy/Wiley

Mummy Pictures: Secrets of Stunning 19th-Century Heads Revealed

Their heads may be peeled like onions, and they may be 150 years old, but these Italian mummies are oddly lifelike. Now we know why.

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