The Skeleton of the Azzio's Crypt (Northern Italy): A Forensic Case in an Archaeological Context

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To the Editor:
In November 2013, the Lombardy Archaeological Heritage and the Insubria University promoted a research project on the burial Crypt of Azzio, where corpses were buried during the 17th and 18th centuries. The project was part of an investigation on ancient burials in North West Lombardy that was performed with the sponsorship of Fondazione Comunitaria del Varesotto. The aim of the archaeological investigations was the reconstruction of the funerary ritual adopted by Franciscan members buried there. After the recovery of human remains deposed in “seat-niches” hollowed in the walls of the elliptical crypt (Fig. 1), a deep cleaning of the floor led us to discover a gravestone of an underground burial chamber. The gravestone, which was incorrectly positioned, shows the inscription SEPULCRVM-FRATRUM: a clear sign of the presence of a common ossuary. During this archaeological exploration, we have deduced that the corpses, originally posed in seat niches and walled up, after the end of putrefaction processes, were placed in the common ossuary. The opening of the trapdoor revealed an anomalous burial. Above an accumulation of bones, covered by a dark patina of dust, a complete skeleton with all osteological districts in connection was lying in a supine position, not in a funerary deposition posture. It is possible that the corpse was lowered “in a bad way” from the top. Perhaps a forensic cold case was discovered in an archaeological context? However, the financing of that archaeological investigation did not provide an excavation on the underlying common ossuary and the tombstone was replaced. We have required a second funding to proceed with the anomalous burial investigation that we obtained in July 2015. During the inspection of the ossuary, we have numbered all bone districts of the skeleton and then we have photographically documented. We proceeded with the draft of the skeleton in the burial, and we have recorded the following features: (i) the long upper limbs are not perfectly in anatomical connection, the right one seems to be raised flexed and leaning on the wall and the left arm was probably medially flexed; (ii) hand bones fell into his skull and a phalange was recovered in the right orbital cavity; (iii) preserved spine presented thoracic-lumbar and sacral districts perfectly in anatomical connection; (iv) long lower limbs are partially disconnected, the right femur was extrarotated while the left one was still articulated in the acetabular cavity, tibias were inclined to the left, the right fibula was displaced in uncorrected position while the left one was perfectly articulated; (v) feet bones were scattered near to the distal epiphysis of tibias (Figs. 2, 3). Then, we transferred the human remains to the Centre of Research in Osteoarchaeology and Paleopathology of the University of Insubria to perform identificative investigations. We used the common forensic anthropological investigations to reconstruct the “biological profile” (determination of sex, race, age at death, stature, and pathological conditions). Sex estimation was performed using standard pelvic and cranial morphological indicators according to methods given by Buikstra and Ubelaker.1 Race was determinate by cranial measurements. Age of death was estimated from scores obtained from degenerative changes of the pelvic bones (ilium auricular surface and pubic symphysis) and sternal rib modification. Intra vitam body stature was calculated using methods based on the measurement of long bones length. Radiological investigations were performed to observe eventually pathological conditions. Conventional medical radiological equipment consists of a 16-layer x-ray (Eclos 16, Hitachi Medical System). The dating was made by extracting carbon from the raw sample through physical and chemical processing.
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