Teaching overview

Learning points

  • Technology helps researchers learn more about ancient history without damaging priceless artifacts.
  • Mummification was an important part of Ancient Egyptian culture.
  • Animals were mummified to keep their owners company in the afterlife.

Curriculum keywords

  • Body systems
  • The skeleton
  • Human body
  • X-rays
  • Ancient Egypt

Spark a discussion

  • What is the human body made of?
  • What kinds of technology can we use to see inside a human body?
  • Why is it useful or important to be able to see inside a human body?
  • What happens to dead bodies over time?
  • What do you know about the ancient Egyptians?
  • Why do you think the ancient Egyptians made mummies?
  • What materials do you think were used to wrap mummies?
  • How does mummification work?
  • How can we examine mummies without damaging them?

Multimedia toolbox

Present

Show this visual before the film and ask the children how they could find out what was inside without unwrapping it.

X-ray

Show this visual before the film and ask the children how we can see inside the human body.

Pyramids

Show this visual before the film and ask the children to share what they already know about ancient Egypt.

CT scanner
A machine that scans different parts of the body using X-ray radiation, creating a 3D image.

CT scanner

Show this visual after the film to reinforce key scientific language.

Activities

Mummified apples

INVESTIGATE how salt, bandages and moisture affect decomposition by making mummified apples in the classroom.

Open detailed instructions

Other activity ideas

  • RESEARCH the religious beliefs of the ancient Egyptians, particularly those relating to death and burial practices, and present findings to the class.
  • CONSTRUCT model animal mummies using bandages, paper mache paste and other art materials.
  • OBSERVE what happens to a piece of food over a period of time when it is left in sunlight, and then discuss the process of decomposition.
  • CREATE a large poster of the human body, labelling as many different bones and organs as the children can identify.
Print this sheet

Mummified apples

Duration: 45 minutes

Resources:

  • 1 apple (cut into quarters)
  • 4 small containers or disposable plastic cups
  • 4 small trays or plates
  • Salt mixture (1 part salt to 1 part bicarbonate of soda)
  • Water
  • Bandages
  • String
  • Protective gloves
  • Safety goggles
  • Lab coats or aprons
  • Planning an investigation activity sheet
  • Weighing scales (optional)

Key Learning:

This activity helps the students to understand how mummification works, by conducting an investigation into the effects of salt, moisture and bandages on decomposition. Note: The apples will need to be left undisturbed for at least one week before the students can gather their results.

Activity instructions:

  1. Ask the students to discuss the following questions in groups:
    • What do you know about the process of making a mummy?
    • How do you think mummification works?
  2. Explain to the students that the ancient Egyptians used a variety of methods to protect bodies from decomposition. Today, the class is going to investigate some of these methods, and attempt to mummify an apple!
  3. Work together as a class to plan an investigation into the effects of salt, moisture and bandages on decomposition. Ask the groups to complete the Planning an investigation activity sheet. Note: You may want to suggest weighing the apples before and after the investigation, as a way of measuring any change. This data could then later be used to produce a simple graph or table.
  4. Organise the students into small groups and distribute the resources.
  5. To investigate the effects of bandages, wrap one piece of apple in several layers of bandage, and secure tightly with string. Place the wrapped apple inside the first container.
  6. To investigate the effects of salt, place an unwrapped piece of apple in the second container and cover with the mixture of salt and bicarbonate of soda.
  7. To investigate the effects of moisture, add a small amount of water to the third container, so that the apple is partly submerged.
  8. The fourth piece of apple should act as a “control”, so the class have something to compare the other three apples against.
  9. Note: If you have the time and resources, you could encourage the class to suggest and carry out other tests, such as covering a piece of apple in salt only, or in bicarbonate of soda only.
  10. Leave the apples in the containers for one week. Ask the groups to check their investigation each morning and record any observable changes, though ensure that they do not touch the containers or their contents.
  11. After one week, remove the apples from the containers, and place on separate trays so they can be examined. Safety note: Gloves, goggles and lab coats/aprons should be worn when removing and examining the apples. You should also stress that these apples are no longer edible!
  12. Ask the students to examine the apples and record their observations. You may want to use the following prompt questions:
    • Which piece of apple has decomposed the most?
    • Which piece of apple is preserved the most?
    • What do you notice about the piece of apple that was covered in salt?

    Note: The students should notice that the piece of apple that was in water has decomposed the most, and the piece that was in the salt mixture has been preserved the most.

  13. Ask the class to offer explanations for the results. What does this investigation indicate about the mummification process?
  14. Listen to the students’ suggestions and then explain that the salt mixture dried out the apple, which helped to prevent decomposers like bacteria from breaking it down. This is similar to the methods used by the ancient Egyptians, who dried out bodies using a substance called natron.
  15. Ask the groups to complete their tables of results and write conclusions.

Optional extra

Cover the best-preserved apple with a fresh layer of salt/bicarbonate of soda mixture. Leave for another 1–2 weeks, to complete the mummification process!

Background information

  • Dead bodies will naturally decompose due the action of fungi and bacteria. Temperature, the presence of water and the presence of oxygen all affect the rate of decomposition.
  • Mummification is a process of preserving dead bodies and preventing decomposition. The ancient Egyptians believed that mummification helped to prepare the dead for the afterlife.
  • Egyptian mummification involved removing the internal organs and placing them in separate jars, then covering the body in salt to remove moisture. The body was then wrapped in linen, ready for burial.
  • X-rays are a type of electromagnetic radiation. They pass through soft tissue but not bone, and so can be used to produce detailed internal images of the human body.
  • CT scanners take multiple X-rays and use them to create a 3D image of inside the body. These machines can also be used to look inside mummies without having to open the bandages.

Glossary

Mummification
The process of preserving a dead body and wrapping it in strips of cloth.
CT scanner
A machine that scans different parts of the body using X-ray radiation, creating a 3D image.
Decompose
To rot and break down into smaller and smaller parts.

Explore our resources

Complete your lesson with teaching resources on ancient Egypt from Tigtag.

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Discover free online CPD for primary science from Reach Out CPD.

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