Only a few hours are left before the beginning of the operations for the opening of the two tombs of the Teutonic Cemetery, inside the Vatican walls, to verify — in keeping with what the Promoter of Justice of Vatican City State has decided — if they contain the remains of Emanuela Orlandi. The so-called “Tomb of the Angel” will be opened, in which Princess Sophie von Hohenlohe is buried, who died in 1836, and the adjacent one, in which Princess Charlotte Federika of Mecklenburg is buried, who died in 1840. The support of the Judicial Authority will be guaranteed by qualified personnel of the Operative Security Center of the Vatican Gendarmerie.
In charge of the analysis of the finds and the taking of samples for the subsequent DNA examination, in the presence of the expert and the lawyer of the Orlandi Family is Giovanni Arcudi, one of the major experts of Forensic Anthropology, Professor of Legal Medicine at the Tor Vergata University. We interviewed him.
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–Q: Professor, can you explain to us what will happen at the moment in which you initiate the operations in the Teutonic Cemetery?
–Professor Arcudi: We are committed to the opening of two tombs in which we presume to find remains already in the skeletal state. If it’s so, as we can presume, I will apply the international protocols that are used for the identification of skeletal remains, for their classification and their dating, and for all the other diagnoses that can be done in Forensic Anthropology, to establish the age, sex, stature and anything else.
–Q: So, in this first phase, particular instruments won’t be used?
–Professor Arcudi: In this phase, we are speaking of an investigation of Forensic Anthropology, which in fact has the objective of gathering diagnoses through the morphological examination of the bones. We take bone by bone and we see what it’s characteristics are and on the basis of this, we define all the diagnoses of which I’ve just spoken. We have predisposed, as is done for these cases, a protocol order, which can undergo modification based on what we will discover, after the opening of the tombs, in case we find ourselves in face of names that are different from those we expect.
–Q: We hypothesize that under the tombs two corpses will be found of persons that presumably were buried there. What will happen?
–Professor Arcudi: We will begin to do — separately — investigations on two skeletons, beginning with the extraction, cleaning, placing on an anatomic table bone structures and doing, for each of these bone structures, all those qualifications that are done in Forensic Anthropology, namely, of the morphological aspects.
–Q: Is there a provision in respect of times? How long will the operation take?
–Professor Arcudi: I can’t foresee now what the times will be of the execution because it depends, in fact, on the state, the quality and the quantity of the remains we find, of the possibility to say immediately if it is a whole or less skeleton, and so on. They are all difficulties that at present are not foreseeable exactly with reference to the times of implementation. The standard times of implementation can be three, four, five hours as it is two tombs. However, these times can undergo — and from my experience, I say that sometimes — often — they undergo extension due, in fact, to what is expected from time to time, perhaps unexpected: some difficulty of morphological identification, difficulties linked, for example, to the wear and tear of the bones. Let us remember that we are speaking of bones — it’s a theory, obviously — of more than 150 years. It’s evident that depending on the state in which they have been preserved, they could have suffered a deterioration equal to zero or an important one. Much depends on the environmental conditions, on the microclimate in which they find themselves, on the humidity, on the presence of infiltrations, of possible actions of micro-fauna. The state of conservation of the bones is what will determine the time necessary. Obviously, it’s not foreseeable before opening the tombs.
–Q: Therefore, from the first morphological examination one can already have an idea of the dating?
–Professor Arcudi: Yes, from this first analysis of the bones we can surely suggest a dating, certainly approximate, but for the periods that are useful to us — of 50,100, 200 years — we can do so. We can distinguish if it is a bone of 10 years or if it has been there for 50 years or 150 years. We can already make the diagnosis of sex if the bone structure turns out to be well preserved, After this first examination, we can also come to exclude the theory that the skeletal remains belong to different persons in regard to the two that were buried there.
–Q: What will happen, instead, if other human remains are found?
–Professor Arcudi: It’s obvious that if, for example, bones were found belonging to different individuals in the same tomb, the times of the operation will be extended. The odonto-stomatological identification could be of help, the state of the teeth, of which one can go back to the age as well as if — I hypothesize – there is a dentist’s work going back to the 19th century or if, instead, it’s more recent.
–Q: Professor, to exclude with unmistakable certainty that the remains contained in the tombs belong to Emanuela Orlandi, would we, in any case, have to wait for the DNA test?
–Professor Arcudi: Regardless of the morphological examination of the bones, the examination of the DNA will be done in any case to reach certainties and to exclude in a definitive and categorical way that in the two tombs there is a find that can be attributed to poor Emanuela.
–Q: What times of waiting are foreseen for the result of the test?
–Professor Arcudi: The DNA examination is not of my competence. I will take care of taking the samples. The times of extraction of the DNA vary noticeably — they happen in any laboratory of the world — depending on the state of conservation of the skeletal remains. They can vary, 20 days, 30 days can be necessary and there can even be 60 because sometimes it’s necessary to repeat the examination. Keeping present that for the identification we are in need of the extraction of the “nuclear” DNA, which suffers degeneration, important variations following atmospheric events. We can extract the mitochondrial DNA more easily, but it doesn’t allow us to do analyses of comparison or to do the genetic profile.
–Q: Will you work alone?
–Professor Arcudi: No, I’ll be there with my team, because they are investigations that are made with a minimum of assistance, for the measurement of the bones, for the description of every find. I will avail myself of two of my collaborators. We will use the protocols and methods that are used in all investigations of Forensic Anthropology, regardless of the importance and the connotation of the case. This is what is done and what we always do, to arrive at results that satisfy all the requests of the judicial investigation.[Copyright: Vatican News, Interview by Andrea Tornielli] [Working translation by Zenit Translator Virginia Forrester]