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Mummies

 

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Overview
Imagine that you could step through a time portal and get a firsthand look at what daily life in ancient Egypt was like. For decades, archaeologists have been taking just these types of journeys, and their tour guides have been the mummified remains of individuals who died centuries ago. Even though their lips are silent, mummies speak volumes to those who know how to ask the right questions. When most people hear the word mummy, they usually think of ancient Egypt. But mummies have been found all over the world, including China, Europe, Peru, and Mexico. In fact, many mummies have formed naturally without any human preparation at all. For mummification to occur, all water must be removed from the body. Little or no decomposition from bacterial action can take place. As you might expect, most mummies have been discovered in desert environments. But they have also been found in peat bogs, where the water is extremely acid and has little or no oxygen, and in the tundra, where individuals have become trapped in glacial ice. In both environments, bacteria cannot break down the body tissue. Some scientists argue whether bog men and ice men are true mummies, but these bodies still can reveal a great deal about the world they lived in. The earliest Egyptian mummies date back to around 3200 B.C. By interpreting the text on the walls of tombs, scientists have learned that the mummification process evolved over time. In early days, preparers would simply treat the body by covering it with a natural salt, called natron (now called baking soda), to help dry it out, and then wrap it in bandages soaked in a type of resin. By about 1500 B.C., the art of mummification reached its peak. Before treating the body, morticians would remove the brain and many vital organs. Then they would pack the abdominal cavity with natron, sand, or sawdust and immerse the body in more natron for about 40 days. After that, the body was washed, repacked with spices and more natron, and wrapped in bandages. The whole process took about 70 days. People were often buried with food, tools, jewelry, clothes, and even pets. By studying these artifacts and using modern-day clinical analysis on the mummies, scientists have unlocked many mysteries about diet, health, and even grooming habits. With the help of CAT scans, X rays, MRIs, and other clinical techniques, these silent sentries of past civilizations tell us much about how they lived.

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