2019.07.10 Cimitero Teutonico 2019.07.10 Cimitero Teutonico 

Emanuela Orlandi: the opening of the tombs inside Vatican City

An exclusive interview with the forensic anthropologist commissioned by the Vatican judiciary to examine findings and take samples for DNA testing, following the opening of two tombs in the Vatican on Thursday.

By Andrea Tornielli

Emanuela Orlandi was 15 years old when she disappeared. She was on her way home from a music lesson and was last seen waiting for a bus in the centre of Rome. The date was 22 June 1983. Emanuela’s father was a Vatican employee, and speculation regarding her disappearance and hypothetical ties with the Vatican have been rife for 36 years.

Two tombs to be opened

On Thursday, two tombs will be opened in the Teutonic Cemetery inside the Vatican. According to an order of the Promoter of Justice of Vatican City State, the aim is to ascertain whether or not the remains of Emanuela Orlandi are contained there. The so-called "Tomb of the Angel" is that of Princess Sophie von Hohenlohe, who died in the mid 1700’s. The adjacent one is that of Princess Carlotta Federica of Mecklenburg, who died over a century and a half ago.

Forensic anthropology expert

Giovanni Arcudi is a leading expert in forensic anthropology and professor of forensic medicine at Rome’s Tor Vergata University. His task will be to analyse whatever is found inside the tombs and to take samples for subsequent DNA examination. All this in the presence of members of the Orlandi family, their own expert and lawyer.

Details of the procedure

Asked to describe the procedure in detail, Professor Arcudi said he will “apply the international protocols that are used for the identification of skeletal remains for their classification and dating and for all the diagnoses that can be made in forensic anthropology, in order to establish age, gender, stature and so on”. This involves separately investigating the two skeletons, “starting with the extraction, cleaning, placing on an anatomical table of the bone structures and making for each of these all those reliefs that are made in forensic anthropologies”.

The time frame

Professor Arcudi cannot predict how long the procedure will take: “It depends, precisely, on the state, quality and quantity of the remains that we will find”, he says. Considering how long the remains have been buried, and “depending on the state in which they have been preserved, they may have suffered zero or significant deterioration. Much depends on the environmental conditions, on the microclimate in which they are found, on the humidity, on the presence of infiltrations, on possible actions of microfauna”.

Dating the remains

According to Professor Arcudi, experts can distinguish whether the skeletal remains date back 10 or 150 years, and can also diagnose the gender “if the bone structures are all well preserved”. After which they can establish whether the skeletal remains “belong to different people, other than the two who were buried there”.

DNA testing

Apart from the morphological examination of the bones, Professor Arcudi adds that DNA testing will be carried out in order to establish “in a definitive and categorical way” whether there is any evidence attributable to Emanuela Orlandi in either of the two tombs. The time it takes to extract DNA varies considerably, depending on the state of preservation of the remains. According to Professor Arcudi, it can vary from 20 to 60 days, “because sometimes you have to repeat the test”. Precise identification requires the extraction of "nuclear" DNA, he explains, which undergoes degeneration. “We can extract mitochondrial DNA more easily, but that does not allow us to do comparative analysis or to make the genetic profile”.

Team work

Professor Giovanni Arcudi will be working alongside two of his collaborators and employ the same “protocols and methods that are used in all investigations of forensic anthropology, regardless of the importance and connotation of the case… to achieve results that meet all the demands of the judicial investigation”.

The full interview, in Italian, can be read on our Vatican News Italian page.

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10 July 2019, 14:39