card
377

mummies

OLogy Series
artifact
card
377

mummies

OLogy Series
artifact

Mummies are preserved remains of humans and other animals, some lasting for thousands of years. They are the actual flesh and bones, and are sometimes accompanied by wrappings and precious objects. Many ancient cultures created mummies, but the practice is oldest and most widespread in Egypt and South America, especially Peru. Scientists study mummies to learn about the people and cultures from long ago.

In Peru, mummies were “bundled” in a crouching position.

Often, a false head, clothes, and other objects were added to the outside of the bundle to represent the person within. These objects sometimes reflected the person’s work and gender.

For example, mummies from the Chancay society near the Pacific Coast were often found with fishing nets. A Chancay woman wrapped in homemade fabric with looms and weaving tools may have been a master weaver.

Farther from the coast, a Nazca (AD 0 to 600) man buried with a sling that was used for protecting livestock may have been a herder

Ancient Egyptians created mummies to:

recreate their culture for future archaeologists

frighten away tomb robbers

prepare loved ones for the afterlife

Are you right?

Correct!

Egyptians mummified their dead to prepare them for the afterlife, so that their spirits could live on. After preserving the body, they buried mummies with goods needed in the next world, including food, gold, and sometimes servants. These practices reflected the person’s wealth and status.

Egyptian mummies were often buried with small, decorated canopic jars that held:

food and drink

precious jewelry

vital organs

Are you right?

Correct!

Egyptians believed certain vital organs would be essential for the afterlife. These organs were removed and embalmed separately in canopic jars.

Davis Hurst Thomas, archaeologist

Mummies have been around for thousands of years. There are even modern human mummies that are being made today.

The process of mummification can happen naturally.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

Living things start to decay when they die. Mummification occurs when this natural decay is interrupted and a body is preserved. This can happen naturally, such as in a very dry or very wet environment.

In the past, the only way to learn about a mummy was to unwrap it.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

Unwrapping a mummy destroyed it, sometimes even detaching body parts! Today, archaeologists use new tools like CT scans and X-rays to examine mummies respectfully and non-invasively. 

The practice of mummification began in ancient Egypt.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fiction

Ancient cultures in North and South America (especially in Peru) created mummies more than a thousand years before the practice began in Egypt.

In ancient Peru, families sometimes brought mummified ancestors to festivals.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

Mummification allowed the living to stay connected with their loved ones. Families sometimes kept mummies in their homes, brought them to festivals, or delivered food and drink to their graves.

Definition: remains of humans and other animals that have been preserved for thousands of years

Earliest Human Mummy Discovered: dates from 7400 BC; in Spirit Cave, Nevada

Mummification Practiced: as early as 5000 BC; by cultures on every continent except Antarctica

Cool Fact: In ancient Egypt, animal mummies were buried alongside humans—some as pets for the afterlife, others as offerings to the gods.

Image credits: Liz Lawley/CC BY-SA 2.0; Vasenka Photography/CC BY-SA 2.0; © AMNH.