mtDNA analysis of the Human remains buried in the Sarcophagus of Federico II

Alfredo Salerno, Giampietro Lago, Andrea Berti, Francesco Calì, Mario Mirisola, Patrizia Carta, Carmen Ferro, Valentino Romano

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The sarcophagus containing the remains of Federico II, located in the Cathedral of Palermo Sicily, Italy, was opened on 1998 to perform a multidisciplinary survey 1. Next to the remains of Federico II and in close contact with them were laying two other skeletons belonging, according to historical records, to Pietro II di Aragona and to an anonymous person "The Third Individual" probably a woman. The bones appeared severely deteriorated. Chemical analysis performed on bone samples excluded that the bodies underwent some kind of embalming process. The analysis of mtDNA from bone samples taken from the three skeletons was successful in only one of the two labs involved. The HVR1-mtDNA sequence region: from nt 16,035 to nt 16,395, obtained from the bone samples of Federico II and "The Third Individual" appear identical but bear double peaks at the same nucleotide positions, suggesting mixing (i.e. contamination) of different mtDNA types. The HVR1 sequence obtained from the bone sample of Pietro II di Aragona does not present double peaks and differ from the Cambridge Reference Sequence (CRS) at six nucleotide positions. Cloning experiment of the Federico II amplicon demonstrated that the mixed mtDNA types are only two: one identical to CRS, the other identical to the sequence of Pietro II di Aragona. A reconstruction of these data are proposed in the Discussion. Due to the problematic context in which this study was carried out mixed and deteriorated biological material, failure to replicate results in two different labs, our results and reconstruction can only be offered on a tentative basis. It is hoped that the data presented in this study will reveal useful, for future comparison, if further molecular genetics research will be carried out on the royal dynasties that ruled Sicily in the early centuries of the past millennium.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)313-319
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Cultural Heritage
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • Ancient DNA
  • Federico II
  • mtDNA
  • Pietro II di Aragona
  • Sicily

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry (miscellaneous)
  • Conservation
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • History


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