Girolamo Segato’s Mysterious Petrified Mummies

May 9, 2023 0 comments

For thousands of years, different cultures across continents have successfully preserved bodies of their ancestors. For the Egyptians, mummification was an integral part of the rituals for the dead and an important requirement to living well in the afterlife. In Christian tradition, bodies of saints were preserved and venerated. In modern times, mummification has become essential for studying and teaching anatomy to medical students. Additionally, embalming allows corpses to be transported to far-off locations without decomposing and allows the bodies to be displayed during funeral and memorial ceremonies.

Girolamo Segato.

Various methods have been used to preserve dead bodies. Ancient Egyptian mummies, as well as those found in the arid deserts of Chile and in Iran, were created by removing the internal organs and packing the body in salt to remove moisture. When researchers cut open the mummified body of an infant in Libya, they found the inside packed with different herbs that they believe might have prevented the body from decaying. Many of the techniques used to preserve bodies have been lost. For instance, the body of Lady Dai is so well preserved that surgeons were able to perform an autopsy on the mummy despite it being more than 2,000 years old. Yet, the exact reason why her body was so completely preserved is lost. Which brings us to Girolamo Segato’s methods which is also surrounded by thick mystery.

Girolamo Segato was an Italian naturalist and cartographer. He was born in 1792 in the Carthusian monastery of Vedana, in Northern Italy. As a child, he learned basic sciences from a Sospirolo priest, developing a deep interest in natural sciences. After completing his studies under the Sospirolo priest, Segato spent a short time as an accountant in Treviso before returning to secondary schooling in Belluno.

Starting from 1818, Segato took part in several archaeological expeditions to Egypt, where he learnt the techniques of mummification. Upon his return to Florence in 1823, Segato developed a technique similar to mummification, but unique—rather than simply removing water from cadavers, Segato's method resulted in petrifaction of the tissues. Somehow, he had successfully replaced the organic tissue with mineral matter while preserving the original color, shape, texture, and even the cellular structure of the original material.

A perfectly preserved young female breast.

The reputed American surgeon Valentine Mott spoke of Segator’s work in his book Travels in Europe and the East (1842):

The most novel and piquant treat of all others to me in the beautiful capital of Florence, was my several visits to Signor Sigato, a scientific gentleman to whom I was introduced by my excellent friend and fellow countryman, James Thompson, of New-York, who has been residing with his family many years in Florence.

Signor Sigato possessed a wonderful art, unique, and unknown to all the world besides. Incredible, if not marvellous, as it may seem, he had discovered a chemical process by which he could actually petrify, in a very short time, every animal substance, preserving permanently, and with minute accuracy, its form and internal texture, and in a state of such stony hardness that it could be sawed into slabs and elegantly polished!

He had in this way formed a museum of various animals, such as frogs, fishes, toads, snakes, and a great variety of parts of the human body in a natural and diseased state. In my presence he threw the human liver, lungs, heart, and other parts thus petrified, about the floor with perfect impunity, and without the least injury being done to them.

This extraordinary man must have inherited the magic shield of Perseus, that, with the snaky tresses of the Gorgon Medusa’s head, enabled him to convert everything he touched into stone.

Realizing the incredible value of his methods for all anatomical and surgical purposes, Mott invited Segator to the United States and demonstrate his work among the surgeons and anatomists of the country, but Segator was reluctant. Mott wrote that Segator’s “demands were too exorbitant to be complied with.”

Dejected, Mott returned to the US. Three weeks later, he received a letter informing him that Segator had suffered a sudden and violent inflammation of the lungs and had died shortly after Mott had left Florence. Segato had taken to the grave the secret of his technique, and despite numerous studies and attempts to imitate, his methods remain mysterious.

Segator lies buried in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence. His tombstone reads: “Here lies decayed Girolamo Segato from Belluno, who could have been totally petrified if his art had not died with him.”

Some of his petrified fossils are now at the Museum of the Department of Anatomy in Florence.

A petrified kidney.

# Lippi and Weber, Between horrid and science. Girolamo Segato’s strange anatomy, Journal of Morphological Sciences


More on Amusing Planet


{{posts[0].date}} {{posts[0].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}


{{posts[1].date}} {{posts[1].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}


{{posts[2].date}} {{posts[2].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}


{{posts[3].date}} {{posts[3].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}