Adventures in Ethics and Science

The Free-Ride offspring are currently summering (for a couple weeks, anyway) with The Grandparents Who Lurk But Seldom Comment. Practically, this means the conversations between Free-Ride offspring and parents over the past week have been brief and focused on how awesome day camp is.

I have, however, taken steps to ensure that while I am deprived of the physical presence of my offspring, you will not be deprived of the weekly installment of sprog blogging. To this end, I gave each of the sprogs a book to read during their visit with their grandparents and asked them to report back on their books via email.

Of course, I forgot to issue a mid-week reminder.

Nonetheless, the elder Free-Ride offspring was prepared to deliver a report on this book:


Mummies, Bones, and Body Parts
By Charlotte Wilcox
What I learned:

1: Mummies can be naturally created or man-made.
2: Carbon dating is often inaccurate. [I assume this inaccuracy is with respect to the typical age of the mummies being dated. Maybe it’s a consequence of the mummification process? I’ll need to ask the elder Free-Ride offspring about this.]
3: Natural mummification can happen in a bog.
4: Sacrifices were sometimes mummified.
5: Preserved body tissue might tell scientists how someone died.
6: Bones stay preserved better than body tissue.
7: People sometimes use mummies as decoration or for anatomical demonstrations.
8: Noblepeople were often mummified when they died.
9: Most mummies are sent to museums.
10: Preserved lung tissue looks disturbing. XP [Emoticon in original.]

What I want to know:

1: How did people learn how to mummify others?
2: Why did people sacrifice children to their “Gods”? [Scare-quotes in original]
3: Who (or what) was the first person mummified?
4: Why do grave robbers sell creepy preserved things? [I’m guessing capitalism.]
5: Why does preserved lung tissue look like 2-year-old lasagna? [How does my child know what 2-year-old lasagna looks like?]

Major props to the elder offspring for doing blog-homework without any prodding. This sets the bar pretty high for the younger offspring next week.


  1. #1 bytz
    June 25, 2010

    “… often inaccurate…” sounds like a loaded or misleading phrase. It may be that this refers to the date range of the dating i.e. +/- 100 years or the x% error chance or something similar. I’d suggest having elder Free-Ride define what was meant by this.

    Ask C14 dating is generally good for up to around 50,000 years or so, dating a mummy (around 4000 years, more or less, for Egyptian mummies) should not be a problem.

    I can’t think of anything in the mummification process that would alter the carbon-14 content and there is nothing that will alter its decay rate.

  2. #2 daedalus2u
    June 25, 2010

    That is a good question. Usually the “science experiments” that result in first person observations of 2 year old lasagna occur when an individual has their first apartment.

  3. #3 J-Dog
    June 25, 2010

    Beautiful post – especially the two year old lasagna imagery.

    Re: Carbon dating comment- Just hope that the author doesn’t want to “teach the controversy”, which would open up a can of worms with a huge ick factor.

  4. #4 RMD
    June 25, 2010

    We’re borrowing the Sprogs for a sleepover this weekend and promise to give them a hefty dose of backyard botany, kitchen chemistry and bocce to supplement the reading material…

  5. #5 stripey_cat
    June 25, 2010

    I suspect that if you’re talking about bog bodies, environmental contamination from the peat is a real issue. So not a problem with carbon dating in principle, but a difficulty in obtaining clean samples.

  6. #6 Dario Ringach
    June 25, 2010

    If ever in central Mexico, visit the Mummies of Guanajuato:

    …although I am not sure this one visit is for the kids.

  7. #7 Jim Thomerson
    June 25, 2010

    Have you seen this about radiocarbon dating?

  8. #8 Dario Ringach
    June 28, 2010

    Closer to home — California Science Center, opening on July 1st:

    Mummies of the world:

    …there is also an IMAX film to go with it.


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