When you think of mummies, you probably think of Egypt — or a certain series of Hollywood movies. But actually, mummies have been found in countries all over the world. In fact, the Chinchorro people of South America started mummifying their loved ones 2,000 years before the Egyptians!
Don’t miss your chance to learn more about mummification while coming face to face with 40 real human and animal mummies in “Mummies of the World: The Exhibition” at Arizona Science Center, which is only on display through Labor Day (Monday, Sept. 2).
Here’s a simple experiment for kids that showcases the mummification process in action.
- Two small plastic containers (without lids)
- 1 cup baking soda
- 1 cup salt
- Mixing bowl
- Measuring cups
- Food scale
- Measure and mix together the baking soda and salt in the mixing bowl.
- With an adult’s assistance, cut the apple into four equal pieces. Decide whether to use two, three or four slices.
- Place one apple slice on the food scale and record its weight on a chart. Place that slice in a plastic container (no lid) and set it aside.
- Weigh each remaining apple slice on the food scale and record the weight on the chart.
- Place the remaining apple slice(s) in the second small plastic container and cover completely with the soda/salt mixture.
- Place the containers (without lids) in a dry, dark area (like a pantry) and leave for for five to seven days.
- After five to seven days, pull out the apples. Make observations of the untreated apple in the first container. Use the food scale to record its weight.
- Uncover the treated apple slices from the salt mixture, weigh them and make observations.
What did you observe about the apple slices covered in the salt mixture? Did they look the same as when you started? Did they weigh the same? How did they compare to the observations you made of the untreated apple slice?
One of the main steps of mummification is removing water — a process called desiccation. Ancient Egyptians used a material called natron — a natural mixture of salt and soda — to desiccate the body during mummification. This is the same process you see happening to the apple slices. While some water likely evaporated from the untreated apple slice, the salt and soda mixture surrounding the other slices purposely draws out the water and helps prevent the growth of mold, bacteria and other microorganisms that would normally aid in decomposition. Use your weight charts to figure out exactly how much water was removed from each apple slice.