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SOS Classroom

Grades 3-5 Biology: Mummise

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Figure 1. This is an example of an Egyptian mummy.

Have you ever seen or heard of the movies The Mummy or The Mummy Returns? Mummies have always played a part in nightmares for Western cultures, but in ancient Egypt, mummification was a serious religious ritual. They believed that preserving human remains was necessary so that the previous owner could enjoy the fruits of the afterlife. In this science fair project, you will learn about the rituals and science of mummification by mummifying a hot dog.

Objective

To study the science of mummification by mummifying a hot dog using baking soda.

Introduction

Most people associate ancient Egypt with the pharaohs, the Great Pyramids of Giza, and mummies. But what is the connection between these three things and what is a mummy? A mummy is a corpse whose skin and flesh have been preserved by chemicals or by exposure to the elements of weather. The ancient Egyptians believed that preserving the body was important because without the body, the previous owner’s “ka,” or life force, would always be hungry. It was important for a person’s ka to survive so that he or she could enjoy the afterlife, or life after death. The ancient Egyptians started mummifying remains about 3300 BC, although remains were found in Pakistan that had been mummified at about 5000 BC. There were several steps to the ritual of mummification. First, the body was thoroughly washed in the waters of the Nile river. Then the brain was removed through the nostrils and discarded. An opening was made in the left side of the abdomen and the lungs, liver, stomach and intestines were removed and placed into four canopic jars. Each jar was believed to be guarded by a different god. The heart was left in the body because the ancient Egyptians believed that the heart was the location of emotion and thought. Finally, the body was stuffed and covered with natron salt. The purpose of this step was to remove all bodily fluids and desiccate the body. Once the body was completely desiccated, the body was rubbed with perfumed oils and then wrapped very carefully with linen bandages. Once completely wrapped, the remains were placed inside of a sarcophagus and then inside of a tomb. In the case of the pharaohs Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure, their tombs are now known as the Great Pyramids of Giza.

Present-day scientists, also known as Egyptologists, are interested in studying mummies because they provide a wealth of knowledge about the time in which they were made. By studying the remains, scientists can find out the health of the mummified person, life expectancies, and the kinds of diseases that plagued ancient Egypt.

In this science fair project, you will play the part of the royal embalmer (the person in charge of making the mummies). Instead of mummifying a pharaoh of ancient Egypt, you will mummify something much closer to home—a hot dog! How long will it take to mummify the hot dog? How will you know when the hot dog is completely desiccated and mummified? Open up some baking soda and a package of hot dogs to find out!

Terms, Concepts and Questions to Start Background Research

- Mummification

- Canopic jar

- Natron

- Desiccate

- Sarcophagus

- Embalm

- Circumference

- Percent

Questions

- What is mummification and when did it start?

- What are the components of natron salt?

- What does natron salt accomplish and how does it accomplish it?

- How long were Egyptians’ bodies typically left in the natron salt?

Materials and Equipment

- Disposable gloves (4 pairs); available at drugstores

- Paper towel

- Meat hot dog, standard size

- Ruler

- Piece of cotton string, 6 inches

- Kitchen scale

- Airtight plastic storage box with lid that is longer, wider, and several inches deeper than the hot dog

- Baking soda (8 8-oz boxes)

- Lab notebook

Experimental Procedure

- Put on one pair of the gloves and place a paper towel on your work surface. Place the hot dog on top of the paper towel and the ruler next to it. Measure the length of the hot dog and record the number in your lab notebook in a data table like the one shown below.

- Take the piece of string and wrap it around the middle of the hot dog to measure the distance around the middle. You are measuring the circumference of the hot dog. Make a mark on the string where the end of the string meets up with itself. Lay the string along the ruler to measure the distance from the end of the string to the mark. This is the circumference of your hot dog. Note the value down in your lab notebook.

- Measure the weight of the hot dog on the kitchen scale. Record this value in your lab notebook.

- Now prepare for the mummification process. The purpose of this process is to desiccate and preserve the hot dog. Put at least 1 inch of baking soda in the bottom of the storage box. Lay the hot dog on top of the baking soda. Cover the hot dog with more baking soda. Make sure that you have at least 1 inch of baking soda on top of the hot dog, and baking soda along the sides of it. The hot dog must be completely covered with baking soda.

    Hot dog in baking soda
    Figure 2. Preparing to mummify the hot dog.

- Seal the box with the lid and put the box in an indoor shady location, away from heating and cooling vents, where it will not be disturbed. Note the date and time that you started the process in your lab notebook. Do not disturb it for one week—no peeking!

- After one week, check on your hot dog. Put on a new pair of disposable gloves and take the hot dog out of the baking soda and dust all of the baking soda off into a trash can. Place the hot dog on a paper towel and measure the length and the circumference of the hot dog. Use the kitchen scale and weigh the hot dog. Record the data in your lab notebook.

- Observe the hot dog. Has the color changed? Does it smell? How did the hot dog change after a week in the baking soda? Set the hot dog aside on a paper towel.

- Now discard the old baking soda and clean out your box. Make sure you dry it thoroughly. Put on another pair of gloves and fill the box with a new layer of baking soda. Again, put at least 1 inch of baking soda in the bottom of the box. Lay the same hot dog on top of the baking soda and cover it with additional baking soda. You should have at least 1 inch of baking soda on top of the hot dog, and baking soda along the sides of the hot dog. The hot dog must be completely covered.

- Seal the box with the lid and put the box back where it was before. Keep the hot dog in the box for three additional days, for a total of 10 days of mummification. At the end of the 10th day, take the hot dog out of the baking soda and repeat steps 6 and 7.

- How did the hot dog change from the 1st day to the 10th day? How, if at all, did the hot dog change from the 7th day to the 10th day? If it did not change, then your hot dog is mummified. If it did change, you might want to try covering it with baking soda again for a couple of days and then repeating steps 6 and 7 to see if there is a further change.

Mummified hot dog next to a fresh hot dog

Figure 3. On the left is the partially mummified hot dog. Note the difference in color between the partially mummified hot dog and the fresh hot dog on the right.

- Plot your data. You should make three line graphs: one to show the changes in length, another to show changes in circumference, and finally, one to show the change in weight. On each of these graphs label the x-axis Day and then the y-axes Length, Circumference, and Weight. If you would like to learn more about graphing, or would like to make your graphs online, check out the following website: Create a Graph.

Date and Time Hot Dog Length Hot Dog Circumference Hot Dog Weight Observations

Variations

- Try duplicating the science fair project with different varieties of hot dogs. Do chicken hot dogs mummify faster than beef hot dogs? One way to compare data from different hot dogs is to look at the percentage of change each hot dog had from the beginning of the experiment to the end.

- Investigate the different ways that ancient people mummified human remains. Could you apply any of these techniques to mummifying your hot dog? For example, if you live in a warm climate, perhaps you can bury your hot dog in hot sand to desiccate it.

- For more science project ideas in this area of science, see Human Biology & Health Project Ideas.

Bibliography

This article highlights the definition of and provides more information about natron.

- Wikipedia Contributors. (2008, July 14). Natron. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved August 14, 2008, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Natron&oldid=225528550

The following website allows you to go back in time to ancient Egypt to be the assistant to a chief embalmer.

- Discovery Kids. (2007). Tutenstein: Make a Mummy. Retrieved August 15, 2008, fromhttp://kids.discovery.com/fansites/tutenstein/mummymaker/mummymaker.html

This website gives more information about the secrets of the pharaohs and the steps of mummification. There is a link from the main page to the page on mummification.

- Public Broadcasting Service. (n.d.). Secrets of the Pharaohs. Retrieved August 15, 2008, from http://www.pbs.org/wnet/pharaohs/

For help creating graphs, try this website:

- National Center for Education Statistics. (n.d.). Create a Graph. Retrieved August 15, 2008, from http://nces.ed.gov/nceskids/CreateAGraph/default.aspx