Lauber usually approaches her subject in a scientific manner. She presents mummification—the process of body preservation from either natural or artificial actions—as a phenomenon that was practiced worldwide. The author records anecdotes in the daily life of animals and humans that eventually lead to their mummification. She begins with a woolly mammoth near the Arctic Circle. A young wandering mammoth falls into a natural pit, cannot reach the top, and freezes to death; the walls collapse to form its tomb. The frozen body remains in place for thousands of years until it is accidentally discovered in 1977. Until then, scientists had found few intact mammoths, only incomplete bodies with deteriorated torsos or limbs scattered by scavengers. This specimen, named Dima, became the pet project of a prestigious alliance of Russian scientists. The animal’s stomach contained milk, dirt, and a few summer grass seeds, so the researchers knew that the animal had probably died in desperation in late summer. Carbon 14 dating, which is precisely defined for young readers, found the mummy to be nearly forty thousand years old.
Mummification requires specific conditions in order to preserve bodies successfully. Lauber clarifies the primary natural mummification processes: salting, freezing, drying, and embalming. Because oxygen deprivation accompanies mummification, many bodies suffer a combination of these effects. The author provides examples of these methods by citing specific mummies that scientists have discovered. In a South American copper mine in the Atacama Desert, the drying air and natural salts froze a miner—his slight, statuelike frame still in a working position, with his hair braided and his loincloth covering intact. The so-called Copper man relayed information to the scientific community not only from his body but also from the tools surrounding him. In 400
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Patricia Lauber considers herself a serious author of informative juvenile literature. She has written for Scholastics Magazine and has moved in scholarly circles, with staff positions at Science World, The New Book of Knowledge, and Scientific American Illustrated Library. Lauber has published books on volcanoes, dinosaurs, earthquakes, glaciers, rivers, and icebergs and such creatures as earthworms, penguins, dogs, bats, and mice. She also documents nations—their people, scientists, and environment.
Volcano: The Eruption and Healing of Mount St. Helens (1986), received several prestigious awards. Tales Mummies Tell received the New York Academy of Sciences Honor Book citation in 1986. Lauber is the author of many other books with archeological themes, such as Dinosaurs Walked Here and Other Stories Fossils Tell (1987), The News About Dinosaurs (1989), and Living with Dinosaurs (1991).
Lauber began writing in a lighthearted manner; she first wrote of her dog Clarence in a series of humorous misadventures. Editors soon realized that she had the ability to surprise and fascinate adults while explaining information to intermediate readers. Lauber suggests that her ability to write emanates from her love of hearing others read. She writes of those subjects that interest her, and, judging by her long list of books, curiosity has served her well.