Skeleton or Mummy: Practices and Structures for Secondary Burial in Southern Italy in Modern and Contemporary Age


  • Antonio Fornaciari Division of Paleopathology University of Pisa, I


Secondary burial, Mummification, Skeletonisation , Southern Italy


 The ancient concepts of death as duration and the practices of secondary burial, first analysed by Robert Hertz, still survive in many areas of southern Italy. According to these beliefs death was perceived not as a sudden event, but as a long-lasting process, during which the deceased person had to go through a transitory phase, passing from one state of existence to another. Recent archeological research documents the persistence of secondary burial rites in Southern Italy during the Modern Age. A survey conducted in the province of Messina in Eastern Sicily has identified two surviving architectural structures appointed for the treatment of the bodies: 'the ʻsitting colatoioʼ  aimed at favoring the skeletonisation and the 'ʻhorizontal colatoioʼ  used to obtain mummification by dehydration. Both these structures controlled the corpse’s decay and transformed the body in a stable and durable simulacra of the dead.