Italian Mummy School - 2016

Students study mummies at first field school in Sicily

Students from four universities in three countries spent July 22 to August 6, 2016 learning about the field of mummy studies in the first Mummy Studies Field School in Santa Lucia del Mela, a small community on the island of Sicily, Italy. The school was a collaborative effort among the Sicily Mummy Project, the Archdiocese of Messina, the Sicilian Region, the city of Santa Lucia del Mela, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Students lived, worked and learned about mummies in an immersive setting. For their visit, they stayed in a former convent above a crypt housing both mummies and ossuaries.

The city of Santa Lucia del Mela hosted a reception for Mummy Studies Field School students on the first day of their study abroad. This televised panel was open to the public and discussed the importance of the field school and the excitement of local stakeholders. The Panel included: Katia Trifiro, local journalist; Karl Reinhard, field school instructor from the School of Natural Resources at Nebraska; Dario Piombino-Mascali, field school instructor; Carlo Vermiglio, Sicily’s minister of culture; Antonio Campo, Santa Lucia del Mela’s mayor; and Rosario Torr, Santa Lucia del Mela’s minister of culture.

  • Facial Reconstruction
    Mummy studies students learned how to perform traditional facial reconstruction using clay.
  • Blessed Antonio Franco
    The Blessed Antonio Franco rests in the cathedral of Santa Lucia del Mela near a UNL-Sicily themed floral arrangement.
  • Blessed Antonio Franco - Close Up
    The Blessed Antonio Franco of Santa Lucia del Mela was restored by Dr. Dario Piombino-Mascali, of the Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo, and a colleague.
  • Deb Meier, Reconstructed Face and Class
    Dr. Deb Meier, forensic scientist with Nebraska, and the mummy studies students show off their facial reconstruction.
  • reliquaries on display
    Human bones are encased within reliquaries on display in Santa Lucia del Mela.
  • Karl Reinhard
    Dr. Karl Reinhard of the School of Natural Resources discusses mummy studies with students inside the crypt at the Convento dei Cappuccini e l'annessa Chiesa in Santa Lucia del Melo, Sicily.
  • Capuchin Catacombs
    The 2016 Mummy Studies Field School class visits the Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo, Italy.
  • Castle Shrine
    A view from the Castle Shrine, which overlooks Santa Lucia del Mela, Italy.
  • Mummy Inspection
    Students examine mummies in the crypt beneath the Capuchin Church of Santa Lucia del Mela, Sicily
  • Johnica Morrow
    Dr. Johnica Morrow, a recent doctoral graduate of the School of Natural Resources, accompanies mummy studies students into Piraino Mother Church's Sepulcher of the Priests, a crypt, in northeastern Sicily.
  • Rosalia Lombardo Mummy
    Rosalia Lombardo, one of the most well-preserved mummies in the world, rests within the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, Italy.
  • Pollen Analysis
    Students learn about pollen analysis in the context of mummy studies during the 2016 study abroad course. The specimens were from mummies in the crypt at the Convento dei Cappuccini e l'annessa Chiesa in Santa Lucia del Melo, Sicily.
  • Group Discussions
    Students describe their observations of Santa Lucia mummies during the 2016 Mummy Studies Field School course.
  • Colorful Sidewalk
    Colored sand, salt, and coffee grounds were used to decorate for the procession of the Madonna of the Snow
  • Selfie
    The 2016 mummy studies class takes a sunset selfie on a Sicilian beach.

The 2016 field school was taught by experts in mummy studies. These experts included National Geographic Explorer and forensic anthropologist, Dr. Dario Piombino-Mascali, who is a native of Sicily and serves as the curator for many of the mummies on the island. From the University of Nebraska-Lincoln came Dr. Johnica Morrow, who has examined mummies from Lithuania and Italy for parasitic infections, dietary residues, and biological taphonomic agents; Dr. Deb Meier, who has worked in mummy conservation, instructional technology and museum studies; and Dr. Karl Reinhard, who has analyzed mummies from many countries for evidence of parasitic infections and to reconstruct diets, medicinal plant usage and human behaviors. This team of experts covered a range of topics and provided the students with many examples from their personal experiences in mummy studies.

The class for the 2016 Mummy Studies Field School was comprised of nine undergraduate students representing the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Nebraska Wesleyan University, both in Lincoln, Nebraska, and two graduate students representing Fluminense Federal University (Niterói, Brazil) and the University of Helsinki (Helsinki, Finland). Students were majoring in areas of anthropology, biology, forensic science and even political science. The group dynamic made for engaging group discussions with diverse perspectives on issues related to ethics, culture and science.

The course covered an array of topics including mummy restoration, human taphonomy, paleopathology, dietary analysis and facial reconstruction. Over two weeks, the students conducted visual examinations of three mummies each and recorded their observations in a class database. The data collected this year will be used to address future curatorial concerns and represent the first set in what will be a growing accumulation of information as the MSFS continues in future years. During the school, students took multiple field trips to the nearby cities of Milazzo, Piraino, and Palermo to study mummies, see the artwork and architecture of dozens of churches (many of which contained mummies or reliquaries), and experience Sicilian culture.

Day by day summaries of the 2016 field school can be found here:

Find more photos from their travels on Facebook:

Registration for the Summer 2017 will open soon. If you have questions contact, please Johnica Morrow at

Dr. Dario Piombino-Mascali
The class examines mummies in the crypt beneath Convento dei Cappuccini e l'annessa Chiesa in Santa Lucia del Melo, Sicily.
La torre di Piraino
The 2016 Mummy Studies Field School class takes a photo in front of La torre di Piraino.