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Mummy Who Would Be King, The

Classroom Activity


Activity Summary
To determine the culture and method of mummification of various mummies by using descriptive clues.

Learning Objectives
Students will be able to:

  • explain what mummification is.

  • understand that different societies practiced different methods of mummification

Materials for each team

Mummies are bodies of people or animals preserved after death. The process of mummification used by ancient cultures that preserved their dead for hundreds, even thousands, of years differs from more modern methods of embalming that are sometimes used to temporarily preserve human remains after death. Mummification often included the use of resin or chemicals to preserve the dead; contemporary embalming involves treating a corpse with preservatives in order to temporarily prevent decay.

Mummies have been found in many places around the world, including Egypt, Greenland, South America, the Austrian-Italian Alps, New Guinea, Northwest Europe, the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska, and the U.S. Southwest.

Mummification methods varied, and they were often dependent upon the tools and materials available to a particular culture. Each method prevented bacteria and fungi from multiplying and breaking down the body. Some mummification methods were anthropogenic—created intentionally by people—while others were spontaneous—created by natural conditions such as subzero temperatures or burial in bogs.

Mummification often involves one of the following techniques: drying the body with salts, smoke, or chemicals; drying the body in the sun and wind or in the cold and wind; placing the body in an oxygen-free environment such as a peat bog; or burying the body in soil that has bacteria-killing chemicals.

This activity will introduce students to some of the different kinds of mummification techniques that have been discovered worldwide.

  1. Organize students into teams and provide each team with copies of the student handouts and access to or copies of the "Mummies 101" article found on the NOVA Web site.

  2. Ask students to read the article and then work together to identify each mummy by using the descriptive clues.

  3. When teams are finished, divide the mummy descriptions evenly amongst the teams. Have each team conduct additional research on its types of mummification. After learning more, each team should plot the geographic location where its mummies were found, and plot the date the bodies were mummified, on the map and time line provided in the "Mummies of the World" student handout.

  4. After all teams have completed their handouts, have each team report on its assigned mummies, providing the locations and mummification time frames for a class map and time line. Once all teams have reported, ask students to identify any patterns they see about where, how, why, or when the mummies were created. What, if any, general conclusions can be drawn about the mummies studied? What surprised students the most about the mummies they researched?

  5. Ask students about the types of items that are often preserved today and the preservation techniques that are used. (An example might include food by refrigeration, salting, and pickling.)

  6. As an extension, have students choose a mummification technique for further study. Ask students to prepare a one-page summary that includes the related science of their chosen techniques.

Activity Answer



Ana- sazi

Aust- rian-
Ital- ian Alps

Chin- choros

Egypt- ian

Green- land


New Guin- ean

NW Euro- pean Bogs

Palo- man

Mummy Description

flat, brown, and leathery; lifelike appearance


young with wood supports along the spine


found under ceramic jar


wrapped in leather; lots of grass inside


buried under house floor; wrapped in reeds


3,000 years old; found wrapped well in linen strips


wrapped in fur, wore new sandals


wore shoes stuffed with grass


found hanging from cave ceiling


feathers inside


broken skull; thin bones


found beside clothing made of seal skin


bundled with false head decorated with piercing eyes


heart left inside


found high on a mountain surrounded by gold and silver


smoke-cured before covered in clay


Mummy world map

Time Line
The time line shows mummy findings worldwide and the approximate times scientists believe the mummies were preserved (some mummy ages are more speculative than others depending on how accurately the mummy remains could be dated). These approximate ages change as scientists more accurately determine the age of existing mummy remains and discover and date new remains.

Mummy timeline

Links and Books

Web Sites

NOVA—The Mummy Who Would Be King
Find out whether any undiscovered tombs still exist, discover who Rameses I was, see how a mummy is made, and learn more about the history of mummification in Egypt.

Mummies of Ancient Egypt
Explores the process of and reasons for mummification.

Mummies Unmasked
Provides more information about mummy making.

Mystery Mummy
Contains an article that explains why the mystery mummy found in a Niagara Falls museum may be Rameses I.

Summum Mummification
Contains a globe interactive that allows users to see where mummies have been found around the world.


Egyptian Mummies: People from the Past
by Delia Pemberton. Harcourt Brace & Co., 2001.
Shows how forensic science can shed light on the ancient Egyptians.

Mummies, Bones, and Body Parts
by Charlotte Wilcox. Carolrhoda Books, 2000.
Contains graphic photos of ancient mummies and descriptions of different preservation methods.

by James Putnam. Dorling Kindersley, 2000.
Provides an overview of mummies from around the world.


The "Matters of Mummification" activity aligns with the following National Science Education Standards (see

Grades 5-8
Science Standard G

History and Nature of Science
History of science

Classroom Activity Author

Developed by WGBH Educational Outreach staff.

Teacher's Guide
Mummy Who Would Be King, The

Video is not required for this activity
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