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Forensics: Who Killed The Iceman?Forensics-Who-Killed-The-Iceman

  • Subject: Physical Science
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-12
  • |
  • Duration: Two or three class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will
  • review information about mummies,
  • research a well-known ice mummy, and
  • make a class presentation.


  • Paper and pencils
  • Computer with Internet access
  • Markers or similar materials


  1. Ask students the following questions about mummies (answers in italics).


    • What is a mummy? (a preserved body)
    • How are mummies different from skeletons? (They have some organs, muscles, or other soft tissue.) Explain why some bodies become a skeleton, while others become mummies. (Usually, bacteria or fungi break down soft tissue, leaving a skeleton. When bacteria or fungi cannot grow, the body is preserved and may become mummified.)
    • How are ice mummies different from Egyptian mummies? (Ice mummies were preserved accidentally, frozen by their natural environment. Egyptian mummies were preserved on purpose, through a method called embalming.)


  2. Next, ask students to identify what archeologists can learn about a mummy. (A person's gender, age, diet, cause of death, culture, religion, social standing)


    • What clues do archeologists look for in a mummy? (Cultural artifacts, details about bones and wounds, stomach contents, where the mummy was found)


  3. Divide the class into two groups and explain that each group will study one of two well-known ice mummies: the Iceman (discovered in the Alps, believed to have died about 5,300 years ago) or the Ice Maiden (a young Inca girl died discovered in the Peruvian Andes, believed to have died about 500 years ago) .


    • Students will research how archaeologists deciphered clues to learn about the mummy and its culture.
    • They will create a drawing or three-dimensional model of the mummy and its artifacts.
    • They will give a class presentation, using their model to explain what the clues revealed about the mummy and its culture. Students may want to role-play the experts (examples: the team leader who oversees the study, the radiologist who reads X-rays, the pathologist who investigates physical wounds).


  4. Provide the list of questions below to guide research. Explain that each group's presentation should address the questions.


    • Where was this mummy found? How old is it?
    • What do we know about this mummy's age, gender, religion, cause of death? Explain how scientists know this information.
    • Describe the artifacts found with the mummy. What did they reveal?
    • Describe physical characteristics or marks on the mummy. What do they reveal?
    • What other facts have archeologists concluded about this person's life or death?
    • What has the mummy revealed about its society?
    • What technology was used to study this mummy?
    • Describe the roles of the experts who study this mummy. (archaeologists, radiologists, pathologists, botanists, anthropologists)
    • What questions remain unanswered?


  5. Tell students about the following Web sites:


    South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy


    The Iceman's Last Meal


    The High Mummies 

    Juanita: Incan Ice Maiden 

    Andes Expedition: Searching for Inca Secrets (see "Virtual Autopsy") 


  6. After both presentations, compare the two mummies in terms of their lives and deaths and what they revealed about their cultures? What questions would students like to have answered about these mummies? Would students like to work as archaeologists on ice mummies or other mummies? Have them explain their answers.

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Use the following three-point rubric to evaluate students' work during this lesson.
  • Three points: Students were highly engaged in class discussions; demonstrated a clear understanding of mummies, how they are preserved, and why and how archaeologists study mummies; gave a clear and thorough class presentation that answered all the questions in the assignment.
  • Two points: Students participated in class discussions; demonstrated an adequate understanding of mummies, how they are preserved, and why and how archaeologists study mummies; gave a complete class presentation that answered most of the questions in the assignment.
  • One point: Students participated minimally in class discussions; demonstrated an incomplete understanding of mummies, how they are preserved, and why and how archaeologists study mummies; gave an incomplete class presentation that answered few or none of the questions in the assignment.

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Definition: The scientific study of material remains such as fossils, bones, or relics that reveal information about the human activity of cultures that flourished long ago
Context: By studying physical characteristics of a mummy, such as bones and teeth, archaeologists can determine the person's age and gender.

Definition: An object produced or shaped by human craft, especially a tool, weapon, or ornament of archaeological or historical interest
Context: Artifacts found with mummies often reveal important cultural clues.

Definition: To make into a mummy by embalming and drying; to cause to shrivel and dry up
Context: Bodies may become naturally mummified in frozen, dry climates.

Definition: A body that has been preserved by natural or artificial means
Context: The Iceman is a well-known mummy discovered frozen in the Alps.

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This lesson plan addresses the following standards from the National Science Education Standards:
  • Science as Inquiry: Understandings about scientific inquiry
  • Science and Technology: Abilities of technological design; Understandings about science and technology

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Joy Brewster, curriculum writer, editor, and consultant

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