What if your family believed that after death, you would live a life exactly like the one you live now?  You would need to take all your treasures with you to this new world.  Your family would pack these treasures, along with food and drinks for the trip, when they buried you.  You would even need your body for the next life.  This may seem silly to some of us today, but this was what life and death were like for ancient Egyptians.  When they died, they were made into mummies to make sure their bodies would be in good shape for the next world.

Egypt's pyramids are ancient burial grounds filled with treasures.

Have you ever eaten beef jerky or dried fruit?  Then you have eaten food that's been mummified!  Before refrigerators, people had to find other ways to make food last, like drying and salting.  Drying in the hot sun or ovens takes the water out of food.  Bacteria that would break down food needs water to live.  Without water, the food stays fresh longer.  Salt helps the drying happen faster and helps thing stay dry.  If you rub a cucumber with salt, you might notice beads of water on it a few hours later.  With lots of time and salt, all the water will leave the cucumber, letting it last a long time.

If I eat raisins will I dry up too? I don't think so.


Drying bodies was a lot like drying food.  After death, the brain and other organs, but not the heart, were removed.  Packing them in salt would then dry out the body and organs.  Salt was put around the body, as well as inside.  Over forty days, the salt pulled water out of the body and organs, drying them out.  This made sure they would not break down; the body parts would be in good shape for the trip to the next world.  A key part of the salt used for drying bodies is something we still use everyday.  Sodium is a metal, the sixth most common element on.  Earth and can be found on your kitchen table as the salt you put on food.  Sodium gets lonely, so it is never found by itself.  The salt used to dry out bodies was a mix of sodium, carbon and oxygen.

Sometimes people put rice into salt shakers to keep the salt dry. Who knew you needed to dry out salt?

Once the body had dried out, the body was cleaned and rubbed with perfumed oils.  Next the body was wrapped with strips of cloth.  Sometimes up to 20 layers of linen were used.  Padding was added to give the body shape.  And lucky charms were put between each layer to protect the person's spirit.  Between each layer, the bandages were painted with resin, which is a sticky syrup that some trees and plants make.  This same stuff used to trap insects millions of years ago and turned to stone.  Since it does such a good job keeping things safe, mummies were held together with this sticky syrup, too.

Resin, now that's one way to stop bugs from biting you.

A hundred years ago, people would take mummies out of their coffins to study them and even remove their bandages if they could.  Some people even brought the bodies back from Egypt, like you might bring home something special from a trip.  These people would hold dinner parties to take off the bandages.  Today, people use great care to learn about mummies.  They do not even have to open the case they are in.  People now use x-rays, a kind of light that can go through things like cloth and skin to make a picture of what is inside.

X-rays can show the hard bones and lucky charms under the bandages.  These hard things soak up the x-rays, making shadows on the picture you see on the film.  Today x-rays have gone a step further.  Special x-ray machines take hundreds of pictures at a time.  A bed moves the body into a tunnel where the doctor takes the pictures.  Each picture shows one slice of the whole thing, like slices of an orange.  When all these pictures are stacked up and woven together, they show the whole thing inside and out.  We can then stack up the slices to make a three-dimensional picture.  This would allow us to peek inside at the seeds and fruit under the peel, slice by slice.  When you take hundreds of x-rays and join them together to make 3D pictures, it is called a CT scan.

Mummies are pretty cool!  Many cartoons and movies have them running around scaring people.  While mummies coming to life is fake, making them was real and an important part of early Egypt.  If a person's body was not dried out and protected, they could not reach the next world.  To do it right, salt and sticky syrup from trees, along with cloth, were needed. When people first found them, they often took them apart and broke them.  But now, people are very careful, studying the bodies without opening the bandages.  This is good because now we can enjoy seeing them (in a case, not chasing us around) at a museum.  


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