Mummification, or the preservation of dead bodies, was typically done using chemicals to dry out the corpses, followed by a mixture of plant oil and resin to give antibacterial coating to prevent decay, as with mummies of Egypt, Mexico, and Peru.

However, mummification can also happen in an all-natural fashion; there have been discoveries of well-preserved bodies in tombs (or buried under a soil) of just the right conditions which contain the suitable properties to keep the corpses in relatively good shape even after hundreds if not thousands of years after death.

Few graveyards have such preservative quality, but not that rare either.

Among the most compelling cases of natural mummification took place in the tombs inside the cathedral of Venzone, a small city in the Province of Udine, Italy.

The chamber was first discovered in 1647 during renovation work in the cathedral.

Inside a tomb, which bore the arms of the Scaglieri of Verona, was a well-preserved corpse of a male of average height.

A total of 42 mummies were later found on the property.

10 /10 A Fungus That Makes Mummies

According to F. Savorgnan de Brazza in his article published in Cosmos on November 3, 1906 (translated for The Literary Digest Volume 33 December 29, 1906 Issue), the natural mummification process should be credited to a particular fungus that multiplied rapidly inside the tombs to the point where the corpses became deprived of moisture and stopped decaying, hence well-preserved.

Mummification of the natural process had long been known even back then. Still, the actual mechanism of how it happened only came to a human understanding when microscopic study became available.


9 /10 Curious Property

Further search up to 1835 discovered 21 more mummies in the chamber. Another round of expedition in the property found 20 mummies, making a total of 42 well-preserved corpses.

The most recent deaths happened in 1835; considering the 1906 article was published not very long after the discovery, the natural mummification must have been completed rather rapidly.

Scientists and physicians agreed it took only a little more than a year until the corpses dried up.

Only 11 tombs, situated close to the high altar, contained preserved bodies. The tombs were made of masonry, covered by slabs of stone.

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8 /10 Brown Powder

Deprived of moisture, the mummified bodies were very light but not particularly fragile. The tallest individuals weighed between 22 and 44 pounds. They remained intact when covered with a mass of parchment.

The skin had turned yellowish-brown, resembling the color of tanned leather. Except for the pancreas and kidneys – which had disappeared from the bodies – the viscera looked and felt like light membranes.

Much of the brain had transformed into a mass of brown powder; the rest also had yellowish-brown color, just like the skin.

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7 /10 Hypha Tombicina

Ever since discovering the first mummy in Venzone over 370 years ago, there have been some hypotheses trying to explain how exactly the natural mummification process happened in the tombs.

Initially, it was thought the process should have been no different from that of artificial mummification, but the bodies required no additional treatment after death because all the necessary ingredients naturally occurred in the tombs.

Further investigation revealed no such ingredients. Studies discovered microscopic fungus subsequently known as Hypha tombicina in several parts of the body, suggesting a biological mechanism of mummification.

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6 /10 Moisture Absorbent

Apart from the 11 tombs in which mummies were found, the chamber also had some coffins made of zinc. Bodies placed in the metal coffin had decayed almost wholly, turning into mere skeletons instead of mummies.

In some parts of the tombs, there were dried wood fragments, as if they had been exposed to heat for a prolonged period. The fungi, according to de Brazza, absorbed moisture from their microscopic roots.

They multiplied rapidly enough that the corpses had no time to decompose at all. The fungi thrived within the confined tombs.

5 /10 Fungi Cultivation

There have been attempts to cultivate the fungi outside the tombs, but without much success. Despite long-term research, the exact condition and environments suitable for their life and reproduction remain unknown.

Further study to replicate the process is no longer possible since Italian law has banned burial in churches.

The mummies inside the cathedral of Venzone could not, therefore, increase in number. By 1906, researchers had discovered 42 mummies, but later on, natural disasters struck and destroyed many of the specimens.


4 /10 The Hunchback

The first and oldest mummy, found in 1647, is now known simply as The Hunchback. It was an unintentional discovery during renovation work to enlarge the cathedral.

Workers uncovered the fascinating corpse from inside a 14th-century tomb just below the present-day Chapel of the Rosary. The other 41 mummies were buried there in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Some mummies were relocated from the crypt to the Upper Chapel in 1845, which proved to be a mistake; an earthquake in 1976 buried them in ruins. The recovery effort managed to extract only 15 specimens.

3 /10 Insufficient Evidence

Professor Arthur C. Aufderheide of the University of Minnesota Duluth conducted one of the last modern-day research sites.

He visited the tombs and collected samples of the fungi, soil, brick, and wood for analysis. Of all the microorganisms the professor collected and analyzed, none matched the description of the fungus as had been described by de Brazza.

Furthermore, Professor Aufderheide mentioned that the original description was not detailed enough to classify it under the modern taxonomy. The fungus theory has been since then reduced to mere speculation.

2 /10 Dry Limestone

Based on his finding, the professor built his theory about the natural mummies of Venzone.

He suggested that the presence of well-drained limestone soil in the tomb hid the most plausible explanation.

he environment inside the tombs featured minimum moisture, to begin with, and the overlying church provided excellent protection against water damage.

That said, there is no way for more research to either disprove or support the assessment due to the law. No one is allowed to collect more samples, let alone bury a corpse in the same chamber.

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1 /10 Open To Visitors

Five of the remaining mummies are now kept safe in the churchyard of the Cathedral St. Andrew the Apostle, more specifically in the crypt of the cemetery Chapel of San Michele, open to visitors.

The mummies feature more or like the same appearance and peculiarities when dissected. Human features, despite the alteration due to mummification, are still largely recognizable.

With limited modern-day study to figure out the exact mechanism of the mummification process, their number is likely to continue declining in the future.

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