It’s a sad day for aspiring kingpins and Mafia godfathers–it turns out that you can’t dissolve a corpse within minutes by dunking it in sulfuric acid. If that’s not bad enough, scientists have also shown that even if you wait days, acid alone cannot fully destroy “the evidence.”
This Mafia technique of disintegrating human flesh is known as a “white shotgun” (or “lupara bianca”) murder, a term that entered public parlance in the early 1980s when police in Palermo, Sicily, discovered vats of acid in a Mafia boss’s digs. The crime leader, Filippo Marchese, had his goons kill their victims and dissolve the bodies in a room known as “the chamber of death.” But violent people tend to meet violent deaths, and Marchese was himself dissolved in acid sometime in 1982.
In 1991, German hikers found a surprise on an Alpine trail: a dead body. It turned out the man had died some time ago–around 5,000 years earlier. Researchers guessed from his scattered belongings that the iceman had died a lonely death from the cold and an arrow wound in his shoulder. But now, based on the way his belongings were scattered and the timing of his last meal, some archaeologists think the iceman named Ötzi may have had a proper funeral.
Though many previous studies have looked at the body itself, ScienceNOW reports that archaeologist Alessandro Vanzetti and his team looked at all of the iceman’s gear. They used a modeling technique called spatial point pattern analysis to make a map of how Ötzi’s goods–including axe, dagger, quiver, backpack, and unfinished bow–got to their final resting places. Specifically, the analysis determines how Ötzi’s surroundings froze and thawed over time. The researchers say the scattering is consistent with a ceremonial burial and that Ötzi’s tribe may have placed his possessions around him on a nearby stone platform. The study, which ScienceNOW calls “provocative,” appears in Antiquity Journal.