This page contains content from the Xpeditions website, which is now archived. The National Geographic Education website, natgeoed.org, includes some of our most popular archival content in its original format.

Warning Label

Please note: We are no longer updating the content on archived pages. Archived content may contain dated information and broken links.




Your Mission

You are a famous archaeologist who specializes in ancient mummies. You've been asked to study two very different mummies: one from an Egyptian tomb and another from the Andes Mountains in Peru. Use the clues provided by each mummy to decipher who they were, how they died, and what their cultures were like.

Briefing

What comes to mind when you think of a mummy? A zombie creature wrapped in bandages? An Egyptian pharaoh preserved in a gold body? You might be surprised to know that there are many different kinds of mummies: some are human, some are animals. Some were carefully preserved by the living and buried with precious treasures, while others were preserved simply by accident—frozen in time by their unique environment. And although Egyptian mummies are the best known, mummies have been found on every continent of the globe!

So, what is a mummy? It is basically a dead body that has been preserved in some way that keeps bacteria and fungi from growing and breaking down the body's tissue. That's why mummies have some soft tissue (like skin and muscles), unlike an ordinary skeleton, which is nothing but bones.

What really sets mummies apart is how they are preserved. Some—like the famous Egyptian mummies—were embalmed . (Embalming is any process used to protect a body from decay; a body may be deliberately dried out and its internal organs removed.) Other mummies were preserved by their natural surroundings, such as ice, a dry desert, or murky peat bogs. (Bogs are wetlands of spongy ground, made up of partially decayed plant material called peat.)

Whether they were preserved intentionally or not, mummies are precious artifacts of lost civilizations. Scientists must find ways to explore mummies without damaging them. One way they do this is with x-rays or CT scans. Similar to an x-ray, this technology allows scientists to see a mummy's bones, teeth, and insides. And if you know what to look for, every picture reveals important clues.

You've been asked to study two mummies: An Egyptian mummy believed to be a princess, and an Inca mummy found frozen on a mountaintop in Peru. Your mission is to decipher the clues to learn everything you can about the mummies, such as who they were (their gender and social class) and how they died.

For information on these two mummies, see:

Andes Expedition: Searching for Inca Secrets
Mummy Road Show (Solve the Mystery of the Mummy)

F A M I L Y - X  F I L E S

Younger Xpeditioners: Mummies have been found on every continent in the world, but the most famous ones are from ancient Egypt. What do you know about ancient Egypt? What did people wear? What was the climate like in Egypt? What were the enormous structures built there? Draw pictures of things you know about ancient Egypt. Then color and cut out your drawings and make an ancient Egypt mobile.

Older Xpeditioners: Imagine you are an archaeologist and you have just come upon an undiscovered mummy. (You decide where you've made this amazing discovery and what type of mummy you've found—you might be in an Egyptian tomb, or climbing up an icy mountain.) Write a journal entry describing your discovery. What did your mummy look like? What did you find with the mummy? How was it preserved? What do you think the mummy's life was like when he or she was alive?

Parents: Challenge kids to learn about other famous mummies, such as the Tarim Basin mummies (found in a remote desert in China), the Lemon Grove mummies (found in a cold, dry cave in Mexico), or Tollund Man (found in a peat bog in Denmark). As you learn about new mummies, find and mark where they were discovered on a world map . What can kids guess about how each mummy was made, based on its geographical location?