How mummies are made Egyptian mummy and its X-ray at the National Museum of Natural History (Chip Clark / Smithsonian)
How mummies are made
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The most familiar mummies are the Egyptians, buried in elaborate tombs and surrounded with treasures to escort them into the afterlife.

But not all mummies were Egyptian, or even of the ruling class.

Mummies have been found around the world, in circumstances ranging from honored leaders to unfortunate victims.

What makes a mummy is its resistance to natural decay. Mummies are bodies that have preserved for long periods of time, either because people prepared them to last or because natural conditions caused accidental preservation.

Each mummy is a time capsule that speaks to us from the past.

Anthropologists who study mummies gather data from the skeleton as well as the clothing, jewelry, coffin or other accessories.

These artifacts provide cultural context that might reveal how the person lived and died.

These days, scientists try to peer inside mummies without destroying the linen strips or other materials wrapping the body or the body itself. X-rays are used to see the skeletal structure, while CT Scans can show soft tissues in three dimensions.

Find out more about how scientists unravel the mysteries of mummies by joining us on Thursday, May 7, 2015, for a "Smithsonian Science How" live webcast titled Mummy Science Natural and Cultural Preserved Remains,

airing at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. EDT on the Q?rius website.

Dr. David Hunt from the Physical Anthropology Division at the National Museum of Natural History will appear live to discuss and answer questions.

You can get teaching resources to support your webcast experience.

Critical thinking challenge: Which parts of a mummy speak to us from the past?


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COMMENTS (34)
  • yarelyo-Koc
    4/30/2015 - 02:33 p.m.

    It's weird to think that mummy's are made out of real people . It's also weird how we find them so amazing and how we have different places that display them .

  • azaylag-Koc
    4/30/2015 - 04:03 p.m.

    The parts of the mummy that speak to us from the past would be the elaborate tombstones , and the jewelry left on them. Mummy's have been aroun for a long time , I wonder how many more undiscovered mummy's are out there.

  • CapeleyZ-1
    4/30/2015 - 05:47 p.m.

    This article was about how mummies are made. It turns out that not all mummies were made in Egypt and were royalty. Mummies have been found around the world ranging from leaders to unfortunate victims. What makes a mummy is its resistance to natural decay. These artifacts provide cultural context that might reveal how the person lived and dies. I think that this is cool.

  • AAlexandra-Cas
    4/30/2015 - 06:21 p.m.

    The parts of a mummy that :"speak to us from the past" are the skeleton, clothing, jewelry, coffin and other accessories. What makes a mummy is its resistance to natural decay. Mummies are found around the world, the most familiar mummy is the Egyptian mummy.

  • amandam-Koc
    4/30/2015 - 11:50 p.m.

    They Say that mummy speaks to us from the past because is a time capsule, is a preserved body from other time that can give us a lot of information about the period that was made, because of this the scientists are trying to study them without distorting them.

  • ConnerC-Kut
    5/01/2015 - 07:32 a.m.

    I kind of knew that mummies are located all around the world and are often extremely old but I don't think that it would be too hard to find out how these people were mummified. Normally I would know from past knowledge, that mummies were often, well I think that some of you already know how mummies are made. The real question is when and why these people were configured into mummies. That might be harder than I thought!

  • coreyong-Koc
    5/01/2015 - 01:02 p.m.

    In the days after a crushing earthquake hit the country of Nepal on April 25, there is still time to save lives. That's why governments and aid agencies are sending doctors, volunteers and equipment without waiting for the dust to settle. The estimates are that thousands of people have been killed.
    U.N. spokeswoman Orla Fagan, who is heading to Nepal, said preventing the spread of disease is one of the most important tasks facing aid workers. Nepal is between India and Tibet and is home to Mount Everest, the world's largest mountain and part of the Himalayas. An avalanche caused by the quake killed some climbers on the mountain.
    "There are 14 international medical teams on the way and either 14 or 15 international search-and-rescue teams on the way," she said. "They need to get in as soon as possible. They will use military aircraft to get them into Nepal."
    Diarrhea was already a growing problem and a measles outbreak was feared, with vaccines in short supply, the U.N. warned in a report.
    Substantial logistical hurdles remain, but there were hopeful signs as Kathmandu's international airport reopened after the earthquake, though there were still delays as aftershocks continued. Some aid vehicles were able to travel over land from India to the stricken Nepalese city of Pokhara.
    "That means supplies could potentially come in over land from India. That is a positive sign," said Ben Pickering, Save the Children's humanitarian adviser in Britain. "The airport opening is a small miracle."
    He cautioned that chaotic conditions may create a bottleneck at the airport as governments and aid agencies try to bring in personnel and supplies.

  • adrianas-Koc
    5/01/2015 - 06:35 p.m.

    I always found the egyptian way of body preservation very fascinating. They are done so well and are preserved for years upon years. I only thought it was for royal people but apparently even victims got mummified .

  • thanhn-Koc
    5/02/2015 - 11:23 p.m.

    I remember reading about the pyramids being burial tombs for the kings when they died. The people that mummified them would take the brain out from the nose!

  • SydneyL-Kut
    5/03/2015 - 09:24 a.m.

    I think it's cool how there are different ways mummies are made. (Purposefully and accidentally) Still, I want to know how a body is accidentally mummified. Also, how did the Egyptians and other people who mummified corpses know that what they did would actually work? It's not like any of them lived long enough to observe if their techniques worked.

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