Building a Body: Scale, Proportion, and Ratio
Lesson plan based on Mummy Case
Measure, analyze, and compare the ancient Egyptian canon of proportions using a mummy, painted images, and photographs of people today.
Skills and Focus: Problem Solving
Subject Area: Science
Thematic Connection: Comparing Cultures
Grade Level: Secondary School
Time Needed: 90 minutes
Introduce students to hypothesis definition and testing.
Introduce the concepts of distortion and abstraction in representation.
Demonstrate the anatomical similarities between ancient Egyptians and modern humans.
Instructional Materials Needed
Fulllength photographs of contemporary people
A ruler accurate to 1/8" or 1 mm.
Calculators, if needed
Step 1: Egyptian artists represented people using a strict ratio for the size of body parts called a canon of proportions. At the time the Mummy Case of Paankhenamun was made, the canon of proportions divided the body into 18 units of identical size. The torso and head were typically represented as 7 units in height and the lower body (from the waist down) as 11 units.
Step 2: Have students divide the images of Isis and Osiris into 18 identical units by measuring each figure and dividing the total height by 18. Mark the 18 units on the printout with a pencil. Counting up from the bottom, decide whether the canon of proportions (11 units from the bottom of the feet to the waist, 7 units from the waist to the top of the head) was followed.
Step 3: Ask students to collect pictures of contemporary people from newspapers and magazines and apply the same system to them. Compare the results to those for the Egyptian images. Discuss the different ratios seen in the contemporary photographs versus the painted images.
Step 3: Ask students to collect pictures of contemporary people from newspapers and magazines and apply the same system to them. In order to make measurement easier, calculate upper and lower body ratios to total height in decimal values. Determine the averages of the contemporary human images. Compare the results to those for the Egyptian images, using the decimal values for 7/18 (upper body) and 11/18 (lower body). Discuss the different ratios seen in the contemporary photographs versus the painted images.
Step 4: Conduct the same experiment on the xray image of Paankhenamuns mummy.
Step 5: Discuss the findings with students.
Critical Thinking Ask students to
conclude whether the people in the contemporary photographs match the proportions of the Egyptian images.
describe how did they differed.
explain whether the proportions of the mummy are closer to those of modern humans or to the painted images on the mummy case.
This activity meets Illinois State Goal 11: Have a working knowledge of the processes of scientific inquiry and technological design to investigate questions, conduct experiments, and solve problems.
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