Paleopathology of a 19th century nobleman from Popoli, central Italy

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Luca Ventura
Gino Fornaciari
Antonio Calabrese
Lorenzo Arrizza
Antonio Fornaciari


Paleopathology, Natural mummies, Central Italy, Nephrolitiasis


A natural, well-preserved mummy belonging to a 35-40 years old male was found in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Popoli, Abruzzo region, central Italy. His fine clothes and burial location suggested that he was of high social status and had an important role in the church community. Most likely, he was a nobleman and a member of the Holy Trinity congregation. Two artifacts, a medallion and a relic of Saint Philomena, helped to date back the individual’s time of death to the early 1800’s. To conduct scientific analyses the body was secured to a cardboard layer by a plastic film and submitted to external examination, digital radiology, and computed tomography scanning, as well as histologic examination of samples obtained by video endoscopy. Anthropological investigations allowed us to observe pathological conditions as poor dental health, pulmonary pathology and a left renal stone. The renal stone was endoscopically removed and submitted to binocular stereomicroscopy, scanning electron microscopy also with microanalysis and X-ray diffraction analysis. The ovoid mass measured 22x16x15 mm, showing surface spherical buds and a nucleus of sharp-edged crystals with concentric laminations. Chemical elements were C, O, N, Ca, P, K, S, Cl, Na, arranged in calcium oxalate monohydrate (whewellite) (90%) and calcium phosphate (hydroxylapatite) (10%).  The stone composition indicates a high animal protein intake by the subject, confirming that he belonged to high social class. The co-existence of caries, without major arthritic changes indicates that this man lived a life free from extensive labour. In fact, his death appears to be related to infectious complications of renal urolithiasis.

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