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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Assigned 22 times

  • MelissaOrtega
    5/03/2015 - 04:58 p.m.

    I think the part that speaks of the past is the sarcophagus, because the way this fact tell us a lot the culture and customs that people had at that time.
    When buried people with their treasures, they show a very old tradition, compared with today is a rare occurrence.

  • raymondb-Koc
    5/04/2015 - 12:05 a.m.

    I chose to write upon this article because anything from egyptian origins catches my interest. It explains how Mummy's entirely are a time capsule, due to them holding such historic value, and overall just how the way human activity has changed. If anyone were to wrap a body and store it for years in this day of age, you'd think they were insane! It was simply a way of life back then, and thank god it was, because it's become a great deal of information to our scientists.

  • antoniod-Koc
    5/04/2015 - 01:23 a.m.

    I always have been very interested in the Egyptians that have been mummified. I thought that the culture on why they mummify the remains of the lost or fallen and how they believe in living eternity.

  • jonahh-Koc
    5/04/2015 - 02:11 a.m.

    Mummies really dont 'speak' to us from the past but they can tell us stories. They tell them through there bones. scientists can determine their life through them

  • sierran-Koc
    5/04/2015 - 02:49 a.m.

    It's pretty interesting how mummies are made. They're made from dead people who've decayed over time and what not. It does some what of a time capsule because it is a piece of history that is discovered for people to examine and can determine sometimes how the person died. Mummies are creepy but they do show a part of history, especially if it was someone historical and or popular (well known).

  • alysiah-Koc
    5/04/2015 - 11:33 a.m.

    I think it's really cool how they're starting to look at mummies and scan their bodies. I think it's cool because they're looking at bodies after a whole bunch of years have passed. They should do a lot of this to a whole bunch of different mummies from different places.

  • kizariah-Che
    5/04/2015 - 11:40 a.m.

    i think its pretty cool that mummies are being made based from our past so that varies of people can learn what the past is about

  • faithd-Che
    5/04/2015 - 11:48 a.m.

    Which parts of a mummy speak to us from the past?

    The dummies time capsule is what speaks to us from the past. Each mummy has one...

  • jaceydanks12
    5/04/2015 - 01:18 p.m.

    Like the article and internet said not all mummies are Egyptian. There have many been tombs and shrines found in different places of the world. Not all mummies were in in the ruling class, criminals who did not follow the rules and were executed were, in some cases, mummified. Archaeological chemist Stephen Buckley found out a way to uncover the secrets of mummification through chemistry. With the research I have done I found out that Buckley has made shocking discoveries tracing the oils and medicines that they used on the mummies. He thinks that the oils have been imported from different countries into Egypt. These oils and different lotions were important to the Egyptian culture and keeping the body persevered for thousands of years helped us unlock the secrets of the Egyptian life style. I was thinking some day I would be an Anthropologist and discovering new secrets myself. I have always had an interest in history. I am sure there is more treasure/information to be found.

  • fernandoc-Che
    5/04/2015 - 01:56 p.m.

    I don't really know why people mummify dead people. I guess its for religious purposes or something. But today people over react over mummies when really they're just sort of preserved dead bodies.

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