The secret to everlasting youth may be an injection of formalin, alcohol, glycerin, salicylic acid, and zinc salts. Of course, you’d have to be dead first. Those ingredients, scientists now know, made up the embalming formula that has kept the body of a Sicilian toddler in nearly pristine condition for almost a century.
Known as the “Sleeping Beauty” for her still-life-like appearance, Rosalia Lombardo was only two years old when she died of pneumonia in 1920. Her grieving father hired innovative taxidermist and embalmer Alfredo Salafia to preserve her body, which to this day is on view in a glass-fronted coffin in the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, Italy.
Italian biological anthropologist, Dario Piombino-Mascali of the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman, finally uncovered the secret of Salafia’s expert mummification technique by tracking down his living relatives. It turns out that Salafia had written down the recipe he used to preserve Rosalia in his personal memoir.
Experts say it was the special combination of ingredients that has kept Rosalia looking so fresh, minus some skin discoloration, after all these years. The formalin, which contains formaldehyde, would have killed off any bacteria and the salicylic acid would have prevented fungal growth. The alcohol would have dried out the body, while the glycerin would have prevented it from drying out too much, which explains why Rosaria doesn’t have that Crypt Keeper look.
But the key ingredient was the zinc salts, according to Melissa Johnson Williams, executive director of the American Society of Embalmers: “[Zinc] gave her rigidity…You could take her out of the casket prop her up, and she would stand by herself.”
Image: Wikimedia Commons