Wandering and Wondering

Exploring the wonders of Science in everyday life!

Are you my mummy?

on July 9, 2012

I read an article this morning about “Frankenstein” bog mummies that were discovered in Scotland (http://bit.ly/Nfa7KD) , and I started thinking about mummies. When I was growing up, my mom was a 6th grade teacher and when she taught history she was sure to do a unit on ancient Egypt, including a lesson on mummification.

How does it work? What are the different ways that something can become mummified?

Mummification is the process of preserving the remains (bone, skin, and organs) of an animal or human either intentionally or accidentally in certain conditions. The most well-known mummies are those from ancient Egyptians, who mummified many important people to preserve their remains for the afterlife using various chemicals and wrapping the bodies in layers upon layers of gauze and clay. While the exact process of the Egyptian mummification remains a mystery, mummies are found throughout the world in many different cultures and made through many different processes that we know of.

What are “bog mummies”?

Remains can be preserved through extreme cold (ice mummies), very low humidity (in a cave), or when they are no longer exposed to any air like the bog mummies in Scotland. A bog is a type of wetland made of layers upon layers of dead plant material (peat) that becomes very thick and saturated with low-oxygen acidic water from rainfall. Because of the acidity in the water, the skin and soft tissues of bog mummies are usually remarkably well-preserved, but the bones are dissolved away by the acid.

One of the most famous “bog people” is the Tollund Man, a naturally mummified corpse of a man who lived in the 4th century BC. That’s over 2,200 years ago! He was so well-preserved that when they discovered the body they actually thought he may have died in the bog very recently. They were even able to look in his stomach to find his last meal of a porridge made from vegetables and seeds.

Have you ever had the opportunity to see a mummy? Next time you go to a museum, be sure to check out any exhibits they have on mummies or ancient Egypt. You can see how these ancient peoples preserved their nobility (and pets, too!) for a successful eternity in the afterlife.

Some fun websites to explore:

http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/mummies/explore/main.html

http://www.spurlock.illinois.edu/explorations/online/mummification/index.html

 

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