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Mount Etna: The mystery of the mummified body wearing a tie

Italian police find the remains of a man who looks like he is dressed for the office inside a hard-to-reach cave on the eastern side of the famous volcano

Daniel Verdú
A tourist visits Mount Etna, in the Italian city of Catania.
A tourist visits Mount Etna, in the Italian city of Catania.Stefano Guidi (Getty Images)

Sometimes, the mysteries of archeology don’t need to date back centuries. Italian police recently reported that the Alpine rescue unit of the Guardia di Finanza, similar to a customs police, had found the body of a man inside a cave that is part of Mount Etna, a famous volcano on the eastern coast of Sicily.

His remains had lain there for at least four decades, they determined, noting he was carrying several old lira coins in his pocket (the euro came into force in Italy in 2002), wearing an Omega watch with a distinctive fabric strap, and was clad in the clothes from another era.

No one knows who he was or how he got there. He was also wearing a tie and a thin striped shirt, as if he had stopped off on his way to the office. The Etna mummy was about 50 years old when he died, the police have said, and has become the latest secret uncovered on a volcano prone to cases of disappearances. With his long dark pants and an elegant shirt, the man was also wearing a wool sweater and a green rain jacket with a cape over it, pointing to a misadventure in the autumn or winter months. In addition, he was wearing a pair of hiking boots and a tasseled hat, perhaps indicating a planned mountain stroll.

A copy of the local newspaper Giornale di Sicilia dated from 1978 was also found close to the dead hiker, but there were not many other clues. It remains unclear whether he entered the cave of his own free will or was forced inside, though there were no signs of a struggle. Was he on vacation? Did he go for a walk on a day when he was supposed to be in the office? Did someone set him up?

The man from Mount Etna also carried a comb in a nice case to stay looking his best, suggesting he may not have known what was awaiting him. The criminal forensics unit of Catania, in Sicily, is now analyzing all possible hypotheses, and has made public the details of his clothing and the objects found with him to try and obtain more information.

The lava cavern where he died is located in the area of Zafferana, on the eastern side of the Mount Etna volcano, one of the world’s most active. It is difficult to access, suggesting the man was unable to leave once he made it inside. An accident, perhaps? Investigators have searched through the archives for reports of missing persons, and have found nothing that fits the profile of a man about 1.70 meters tall with birth defects on his nose and mouth.

Massimo Pacetto, commander of the Guardia di Finanza force, said that everything seemed to indicate the man had entered the cave voluntarily, emphasizing that “it is too narrow to have forced him in.” But if he entered on his own, investigators now wonder, why did he never return? The opening of the cave could have been obstructed on purpose, of course, and only the passage of time would have reopened it, allowing the mummy to be rescued. The police investigating disappearances of people in that area have set up a hotline for details that could aid their investigations. Archaeology will do the rest.

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