SANTA ANA – Veronica Skripetz died of tuberculosis in 1808. Her baby boy, Johannes Orlovits, probably died from dysentery, at just a year old.
Those are the conclusions of researchers who studied two mummies on display at the Bowers Museum through Sept. 5 in the “Mummies of the World” show. Last month, the bodies of Skripetz and baby Orlovits underwent CT scans at OC Global Medical Center in Santa Ana. CT, or computerized tomography, scanning is one tool researchers use to discover more about mummies without damaging them.
On Monday, Dr. Linda Sutherland and her husband Dr. James Sutherland announced their findings after studying the CT scans. They also included results from a 2010 CT scan of Michael Orlovits, Veronica Skripetz’s first husband, who died in 1806 and whose mummy is also part of the Bowers exhibit. When the exhibition came to Los Angeles in 2010, a CT scan was done on Michael Orlovits’ mummy, and the Sutherlands recently worked with those results alongside the scans of Skripetz and baby Orlovits.
The three mummies are part of a trove of more than 250 found in a secret crypt in the Domincan Church of Vác, Hungary. The people found in the Vac crypt died and were interred in the 1700s and 1800s. At some point the crypt was covered up and forgotten. But in 1994, repair work at the church revealed the bodies inside. They’d been well preserved by a constant flow of cool, dry air.
“When they opened the coffins … to their surprise, the hair, skin and clothing had not decayed,” Dr. Linda Sutherland said. “Usually when you open up a coffin, you find skeletal remains and that the soft tissue has decayed.”
Drs. Sutherland are members of the Horus Mummy Research Group and estimate they’ve studied about 300 mummies. For the Vác mummies, much was already known. Church records and writing on the coffins helped determine names, dates of deaths, births, marriages and baptisms and sometimes occupations.
But the CT scans showed things that church records couldn’t. After the mummies were discovered, researchers in Hungary analyzed Skripetz’s lung tissue and concluded she had tuberculosis.
The CT scan confirmed that, as it showed scarring in Skripetz’s lungs. It also showed Skripetz was very slender, suggesting she was ill for some time before she died. She died at 38, just two years after Michael Orlovits and a year after marrying for a second time.
The CT scan revealed that Johannes Orlovits was a well-nourished baby, with rolls of fat and chubby legs, Dr. Linda Sutherland said. He didn’t appear to have any chronic disease or broken bones. Therefore, he probably died suddenly.
His bowels were relatively clean, void of the microbacteria normally found in our intestines that help us digest food. Dysentery then was a likely culprit. Without modern treatments like rehydration through intravenous fluids, dysentery could be fatal in that era.
Michael Orlovits died at 40 or 41. His CT scan has raised more questions than provided answers. For one thing, part of his sternum and midsection are missing, said Dr. James Sutherland. One possibility is that it’s the result of a post-mortem autopsy, he said.
The scan also showed a broken and rehealed left leg, a dislocated shoulder and a wooden peg holding the mummy’s head to its body. These last two could’ve happened long after Orlovits died, perhaps when the body was being moved, Dr. James Sutherland said.
But the broken leg could’ve been the result of an injury at work. Orlovits was a miller and occupational hazards would’ve been part of the job. The leg healed crookedly and left Orlovits with his left leg two centimeters shorter than the right.