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Hot dog! We’re learning about mummification
Today we will be discussing the science of mummification in Ancient Egypt. But first, what is mummification?
Mummification is the process of preserving a body for its transition to the afterlife. Ancient Egyptians believed this ritual was necessary to prepare a corpse to be buried. This process includes the preservation of both flesh and bone using specific chemicals to withstand many years of burial.
There are three steps to mummification:
First, the body is washed thoroughly. In Ancient Egypt, bodies were washed in the Nile River. The brain of the corpse is removed and thrown out, as it was not seen as a vital organ needed for the afterlife.
Second, the remaining organs were removed and separated into canopic jars. Canopic jars were small jars very similar to mason jars, that were each believed to be protected by a different god. The only organ that remained in the body was the heart, as it held the function of emotions and thought.
Lastly, the body is stuffed with natron, which is a natural salt that can dry out anything nearby that holds moisture. This is an important step because natron eliminated any bodily fluids being held in the body cavity prior to the corpse being wrapped.
Now that we have discussed the background on mummification, let’s do our own experiment. Note: This experiment will take place over the course of 14 days. Read through all of the directions before gathering all of your materials.
- Disposable gloves (3 pairs)
- Paper towels (3)
- Meat hot dog, standard size
- Piece of string or yarn (at least 10cm long)
- Kitchen scale
- Airtight plastic storage box with lid that is longer, wider and several centimeters deeper than the hot dog. It will probably need to be at least 20cm long x 10cm wide x 10cm deep.
- Baking soda (enough to fill the box twice, probably at least 6 pounds). You will want to use a new, unopened box each time so you may want to use smaller boxes, such as 8 oz. or 1 lb. boxes.
- Lab notebook
- Put on one pair of 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 (in centimeters) and record the number in your lab notebook in a data table like the one below, in the row for 0 days.
1. Put on one pair of 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 (in centimeters) and record the number in your lab notebook in a data table like the one below, in the row for 0 days.
2. 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 (in centimeters). This is the circumference of your hot dog. Write the value down in the data table in your lab notebook.
3. Measure the weight of the hot dog on the kitchen scale. Record this value (in grams) in your data table.
4. Now prepare for the mummification process. The purpose of this process is to desiccate and preserve the hot dog. Put at least 2.5 cm of baking soda (from a new, unopened box) 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 2.5 cm of baking soda on top of the hot dog as well as 2.5 cm below it and baking soda along the sides of it. The hot dog must be completely covered with baking soda.
5. 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 that you started the process in your lab notebook. Do not disturb it for one week - no peeking!
6. 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. Gently tap and dust off all the baking soda from the hot dog. 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 the data table in your lab notebook, in the row for 7 days.
7. Observe the hot dog. Has the color of the hot dog changed? Does it smell? How did the hot dog change after a week in the baking soda? Record your observations in your lab notebook and then set the hot dog aside on a paper towel.
8. Now discard the old baking soda and clean out your box. Make sure you dry it thoroughly. Repeat step 4 using fresh baking soda and the same hot dog.
9. Seal the box with the lid and put the box back where it was before. Keep the hot dog in the box for one more week, for a total of 14 days of mummification. At the end of the 14th day, take the hot dog out of the baking soda and repeat steps 6 and 7, and record the data in the row for 14 days.
10. How, if at all, did the hot dog change from the 7th day to the 14th day? If it changed, then on day 7 the hot dog may have only been partially mummified. How did the hot dog change from the 1st day to the 14th day?
11. 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 (in cm)," "Circumference (in cm)," or "Weight (in g)." 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.
12. Analyze your graphs. How did the weight, length, and circumference of the hot dog change over time? Why do you think this is? Do these data agree with the observations you made?