(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists have begun a study that aims to solve the problem of spontaneous mummification of the dead in Portugal, according to Business Insider.
Portugal in the early 1960s introduced the concept of temporary graves. The idea is that a decomposed body takes up less space, so the bones can be packed in a smaller coffin and moved to a less spacious resting place, such as special boxes in the walls of cemeteries.
According to the law, a body can only be moved if it is a skeleton without soft tissue remnants, so the bodies are periodically dug up to check the degree of decomposition.
In Porto, Portugal’s second largest city, between 2006 and 2015, between 55% and 64% of the bodies did not decompose after the first exhumation. Natural mummification usually occurs when the body dries out so quickly that decomposition simply stops.
This has been observed in extreme environments such as deserts or glaciers, or in conditions of extreme heat and cold. The reason why this happens so often in Portuguese graves is still unclear.
Scientist Silva Bessa and her colleagues set out to study factors that could slow the decomposition of bodies in Portugal. With the consent of the families, they collected samples of the bodies and the soil around them in five cemeteries.
The team found that in the same section of the cemetery, people are in different stages of decomposition: some bodies are completely skeletonized, others are still decomposing, and still others are mummified from head to toe.
Moreover, the same body can be skeletonized, but the pelvic region continues to decompose, and the hands are mummified.
The scientists assessed eight soil properties that can affect decomposition, including temperature, acidity, moisture, density, heavy metal pollution and organic matter.
In the future, they plan to test whether substances that people have taken in life (for example, nicotine or drugs) can affect mummification.
Scientists not involved in the study suggested that the differences may be due to differences in lean and fat body mass, as well as their overall size.
Now the family of the deceased, three years after the funeral, may receive a letter warning that the remains will be exhumed in the near future.
If the body is not decomposed enough, it is buried back in, and the process is repeated after two years. This procedure is traumatic for many families, especially if repeated repeatedly.
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