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World Archaeology I: Mummification - ARC00018I

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  • Department: Archaeology
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Penny Bickle
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23

Module summary

Think mummification was limited to Ancient Egypt? Think again. Artificial and natural ways of preserving human bodies have been used throughout the past and around the world. To do so, past communities drew on both a deep knowledge of human biology, and natural environments such as deserts, bogs and ice. In this module, you can explore these different ways of preserving the dead, learning the different methodologies employed in Ancient Egypt and South America. You will also explore how scientific techniques can be used by archaeologists to reveal the past worlds of mummies in incredible detail. In past years, students have said they really enjoyed the in-depth discussions of Egyptian mummification and also enjoyed the exploration of other cultures that they had never thought of.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2022-23

Module aims

The World Archaeology I Modules seek to expose the students to the diversity of World Archaeology through an in depth review of a range of topics. Students will choose to study topics that interest them.

The specific aims of this option are:

  • To provide a global introduction to mummies and mummification in the past

  • To explore the pathways of natural preservation and methods of manufacture that result in mummification

  • To present a number of case studies drawing upon some of the work carried out by the university’s Mummy Research Group, both in the field and in the museum environment

  • To examine the way in which specifically Egyptian mummies have been exploited and studied over time

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate a broad and comparative knowledge of the archaeology of mummifcation around the world
  • Discuss and explain the principal archaeological evidence in the area of study and demonstrate a critical appreciation of the potential biases and problems in the interpretation of the evidence, particularly the main forms of scientific investigation employed in the study of mummified remains
  • Evaluate and contextualise different types of archaeological source material
  • Critically appraise other peoples studies and produce logical and structured arguments supported by relevant evidence

Module content

With the term ‘mummification’ generally applied to human remains which retain their soft tissue (ie. skin, hair, nails), mummified bodies are almost always associated with ancient Egypt. Yet mummies were manufactured on four continents, ie. South America, Africa, Asia, Australia and Europe, in addition to those bodies preserved naturally in the varied environments of desert, ice or bog. Each lecture of this module therefore features examples of the main types of mummified remains, drawing on some of the work carried out by departmental staff and by the university’s Mummy Research Group, both in the field and in the museum environment. Also an overview of the main forms of scientific investigation is provided. The module is concluded with a case study of modern mummification utilising ancient Egyptian methods of preservation.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 2000 words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Essay 2000 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

Formative: The marker will share written feedback with you in a timetabled one-to-one meeting and you will have the opportunity to ask further questions about how to improve your work before your summative assessment. If you are unable to attend the feedback session, your tutor will share the formative feedback with you digitally.

Summative: Written feedback sheets will be uploaded to your e:vision account (your personal University of York online services account) within 20 working days of the submission deadline, along with your overall mark for the module. If you have any questions about your mark and/or your written feedback, you will be able to sign up for office hours with the marker.

Indicative reading

  • Aufderheide, A. 2003, The Scientific Study of Mummies, Cambridge (not digital but 14 copies in the library)

  • Cockburn, A., Cockburn, E. and Reyman, T.A. 1998. Mummies, Disease & Ancient Cultures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (electronic and hard copies available)

Detailed reading for the module will be available via YorkShare (the University's virtual learning environment). When you have enrolled on a module, you will be able to access the full reading list.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.