Journal Highlight: On the embalmment of S. Francesco Caracciolo

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  • Published: Dec 3, 2012
  • Author: spectroscopyNOW
  • Channels: Atomic
thumbnail image: Journal Highlight: On the embalmment of S. Francesco Caracciolo

On the embalmment of S. Francesco Caracciolo

Archaeometry, 2012, 54, 1100-1113
K. L. Rasmussen, M. Torino, J. Glastrup, N. T. Ramseyer, P. Bjerregaard

The box holding the remains of Saint Francesco Caracciolo, from the tomb

Abstract: The Italian saint Francesco Caracciolo died in June 1608 and his body was transported from Agnone in the Abruzzo region to the city of Naples, where he was interred. According to written sources, his body was embalmed, but the embalmment method is unknown. In the present work, four samples of the remains of S. Caracciolo have been analysed for traces of embalmment. No organic compounds usually used for embalmment were found using GC with MS detection. Only low background levels of As were measured using CV-AAS (Cold Vapour Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy). In two samples analysed by CV-AAS, however, very high concentrations of Hg (12.7 μg g−1 and 4.9 μg g−1) were measured, these being 100 to 1000 times more than the background Hg levels found in bone tissue of other medieval and Renaissance individuals. Two interpretations seem viable: (1) the high Hg levels are caused by embalmment using Hg-containing compounds; (2) the excess Hg originates from a medical treatment that S. Caracciolo received in his youth, when he was cured of leprosy, or in connection with his illness just prior to his death. The case of excess Hg in the remains of S. Caracciolo has distinct parallels with those of other Renaissance burials.

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