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Explore ancient Egypt at home with a fruit mummy

By From page A4 | August 02, 2013

Campers in Explorit’s summer science camps this week got to explore the culture and science of ancient Egypt as part of their afternoon program on social science. In addition to making pharaoh’s hats and learning to write their names in hieroglyphics, they also learned about the practice of mummification.

The process of mummification was a highly specialized science. The goal of mummification is to dry the body out and prevent mold or bacteria from growing and breaking down the body. So ancient Egyptians would remove the organs (some of the most moist parts of the body) and fill the body with salt and other chemicals to help dry it out.

Salt is a natural dessicant. It draws the moisture out of cells. It has been used for centuries to dry meat (like making beef jerky) to preserve it for several months.

You can join our campers in exploring the process of mummification with this fun experiment to try at home. Our campers have mummified strawberries using simple household items.

You will need some fruit, cups, salt, baking soda and some tape and a pen to label the cups. The process is simple. Mix together equal parts of salt and baking soda. So if you’ve got one cup salt, add one cup baking soda.

Put a small fruit like a strawberry or cherry tomato in the bottom of the cup, or cut a larger fruit like an apple into small pieces to use. Then cover the fruit completely with your baking soda/salt mixture and find a good place for it to sit undisturbed for a few days where you can observe it.

You can continue the experiment by trying different fruits or by trying different combinations in different cups. Cover one with all salt or one with all baking soda. What would happen if you put one in a cup and didn’t cover it with anything?

Or try the same fruit in different forms. Use one frozen strawberry, one fresh strawberry that you’ve kept in the refrigerator and one fresh strawberry you’ve kept on the counter. Which one do you think will take the longest to mummify?

Or put one cup in the sunlight and one cup in a dark place. Which one will mummify the best? Why?

Leave your cups alone for four or five days, but watch what’s happening to the baking soda/salt mixture. Can you see a difference? What do you think is happening?

After a few days, empty your cups and examine your fruit mummy. A successful fruit mummy will be smaller and shriveled, probably with darker skin, but with no moldy parts. Which cup made the most successful mummy? Just remember not to eat your fruit mummy!

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Explorit’s coming events:

* Sunday, Aug. 18, from 3 to 5:30 p.m.: Explorit’s Final Blast Family Fun Science Show. Witness chemical genius as UC Davis faculty provide live chemistry demonstrations, take a ride on a Whymcycle and cool off with a smoothie from Jamba Juice. Try you hand at creating art with a scientific twist and practicing science through art. Tickets are available at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/405671. Space is limited.

— Explorit Science Center is at 3141 5th St. For more information call 530-756-0191 or visit www.explorit.org. You can also “like” us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/explorit.fb or follow us on twitter at @ExploritScience.

Lisa Justice

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