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. Many were buried in elaborate tombs and surrounded with treasures. It was believed those could 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. They have been preserved for long periods of time. Some were created because people prepared them to last. Others did not deteriorate because natural conditions caused accidental preservation.

Each mummy is a time capsule. It 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 provided 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. 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. The title is Mummy Science Natural and Cultural Preserved Remains.

It will air 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 (165)
  • JadenL826
    4/30/2015 - 02:51 p.m.

    Thats neat. I wander why they put them in a box type thing? How did they get the bad smell out of the mummies, u know how dead people have a bad smell after they die, thats what I'm talking about they get a bad smell when they die. I think thats why they put them in the box thing.

  • AbigailKscarlet
    4/30/2015 - 04:44 p.m.

    Thats really cool! I always thought that mummies were something that only the Egyptians did. I never realised that natural causes could preserve a body.

  • MichaelDRed
    4/30/2015 - 04:46 p.m.

    I think that it is really cool that they are using x-rays to see the mummy rather then unwrapping it so that means they don't have to take the mummy out and that is going to be helpful.

  • TreyBRed
    4/30/2015 - 04:47 p.m.

    I think how mummies are made is really cool! I've done a project about how to make mummies and why embalmers made mummies and I thought it was pretty fun.

  • ShawnBBlue
    4/30/2015 - 04:47 p.m.

    Mummies are actually made by a technique called embalming. What they do is pull out your vital organs and store them so you don't rot, after that, they wrap you up in soft linen and pour wine on you so that you have a great "afterlife".

  • CarsonP-2
    4/30/2015 - 07:15 p.m.

    Every mummy is like a time capsule because it speaks to us in the future. Mummies have been found around the world. Mummies are human bodies that have been preserved for long periods of time.

  • T.ludwig
    4/30/2015 - 07:44 p.m.

    not all mummies were Egyptian royalty in huge elaborate tombs. Scientists say that mummies have been found all over the world in all different situations. Being mummified has been seen to happen on purpose, and even on accident. in order to not destruct the wrappings of the mummy scientists use x-rays and CT scans to take a look inside the mummies coffins.

    this is cool, i thought that all mummies were from Egypt

  • kaylab1724
    4/30/2015 - 07:56 p.m.

    Ive never really thought about how mummies are made. Pretty neat though. I just thought mummies where dead people rapped in toilet paper and put in one of those boxes.

  • Eric0221-YYCA
    4/30/2015 - 08:26 p.m.

    I think that it is cool for scientist to do a CT-scan on the mummy to see what a mummy is made out of, a mummy is just made out of strips of cloths also the dead body of the pharaoh in the mummy case into a another and another case where the dead body of the pharaoh is protected completely. Well if scientists are using a CT scan on the mummy, I think scientist are seeing to look inside what a mummy looks like.

  • John0724-YYCA
    4/30/2015 - 08:28 p.m.

    I think it is kind of nasty to see the inside of the mummy because the mummy is just an important dead person'd body wrapped up of something called linen which looks like toilet papers and inside the linen is a rotten old body with some precious jewels or other precious things it is inside. When I wen to the science museum to the science center I had learned about how mummies are made and the use oil to warp up the linen so it can be hard later on when it is dried up. I have been thinking about this question which is who would make the mummy which would be nasty of holding a dead man's body.

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