Petrifaction as Preservation: Girolamo Segato

The following post contains images that may be NSFW for some.

Girolamo Segato was, and is, the only person to petrify human body parts. Unfortunately, his methods appear to be lost to time…

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Segato was born in the small village of Sospirolo in northern Italy, on June 13th, 1792. Growing up he had many interests ranging from chemistry to natural sciences to mathematics. Above all, however, he loved to explore new things. This love of the unknown was propelled forward when, at 26, he began his travels through Egypt. In particular, the mummies fascinated him and they helped start his studies into preservation.

Upon his return to Italy, he began writing about his studies in Egypt. After publishing his first volume of work, he ran into trouble. His partner absconded to Paris taking what cash they had, all of their research, and illustrations. It sent Segato into sadness; he would not be able to continue with a second volume and instead worked on cartography until 1831. It was then that he began to experiment with the preservation of animals and soon after the petrifaction of human body parts.

A table of inlaid bone, viscera, and muscle.
A table of inlaid bone, viscera, and muscle.

Unfortunately, Segato died without passing on his work. After someone broke into his lab and ruffled through his papers; the thought of someone stealing his work scared him. Thus, he destroyed all his writings on the subject. On his death bed at only 44 years old, he expressed possible disappointment in this to his friend Giuseppe Pellegrini (nicknamed Pelegro)

“You shall say to Italy, which I have deeply loved and still love, that I did little, because I had no means… l would pay all my blood to get another hour to talk, to tell you, Pellegro my procedure…”

But not all has been lost to history! the Anatomical Museum of the University of Florence has some of the petrified pieces by Girolamo Segato. Among them: a scalp, head, breasts, and a table of inlaid preserved pieces. These preserved body parts have been studied to try and find what his method was, but there are still mysteries surrounding his work.

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The female head was examined through many methods including digital radiography, CT Scan Tomography, and conventional radiography. Through the studies, a 2.5 cm hole was found in the occipital bone; proving that he did in fact inject something. And although it is not known what it was he injected, the injection did reach even the thinnest branches of veins. In order to do this during his time, the blood could not have been coagulated. Which means the head needed to be from the most recently deceased.

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Many other researchers have arrived at methods of petrifactions, but none reach the level of Segato’s work. And no more information has been found of his work. So for the foreseeable future, Girolamo Segato will be the only person to have turned humans into stone.

Segato's tomb reads in Italian: "Here lies decayed Girolamo Segato from Belluno, who could have been totally petrified if his art had not died with him..."
Segato’s tomb reads in Italian: “Here lies decayed Girolamo Segato from Belluno, who could have been totally petrified if his art had not died with him…”

Special thanks to Professor Giovanni E. Orlandini for providing his writings on Segato. Without them, I would be burning with a curiosity I cannot quench!

7 thoughts on “Petrifaction as Preservation: Girolamo Segato

  1. Così come ho letto la linea di fondo che vedo è una Gorgone (mitologia greca), molto simile a Medusa trasformare le persone in pietra.

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