mummiesMummies get a bad rap. Or at least a scary one, especially around Halloween. But real mummies provide a fascinating look into past cultures and civilizations. My kids and I recently came face-to-face with young and old mummies at the Mummies of the World traveling exhibition at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. Whether you’re a local or on a family vacation in Los Angeles, you really should make time to see this unique exhibition. It’s been extended to Nov. 28, 2010.

I was surprised to see so many families with young children curiously peering into the glass cases containing mummified children, adults, and even animals. The kids didn’t seem scared or grossed out and were asking their parents good questions about the collection of 150 specimens of human and animal mummies. Related artifacts from various regions of the world are also on display. We rented audio headsets that explained in detail the history of the mummies we were viewing. But even if you don’t rent the headsets, well-displayed signs at each exhibit summarize pertinent information, such as age and origin, about each mummy.

The exhibition does an excellent job of explaining how mummies are created and the importance of studying them. Technology, like CT Scans and DNA analysis, can determine how tall people were in earlier civilizations, how long they lived and what food they ate. Jewelry and clothing placed with a mummy provides cultural information. Hands-on stations enable you to experience what bog bones, bog skin and linen bandage wrapping feels like. You can use a magnifier to take a close look at a jaw bone and teeth, and watch a video that shows the process of decomposition. Call me a wimp but at times I felt a little queasy and couldn’t help but wonder about the stories behind many of the mummies. One of the mummies is lying down and cradling two babies.

Another shows a pre-Columbian woman with tattoos. More “recently” discovered mummies include two parents and their infant son, who were all found in Hungary in 1994. Based on DNA analysis, the female mummy apparently suffered from tuberculosis. There’s really a lot to learn from this traveling exhibition and if you think your kids can handle seeing skulls and partial skeletons, it’s a must-see. Before you go, talk with your kids so they know what to expect. Some mummies have open mouths due to the drying process; it is not the position they were in at the time of death.

The museum hours are: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily (except some holidays). Tickets: $19.50 ages 18-59, $12.50 ages 4-12, $16.50 youth, seniors and students with I.D. Mummies 3D: Secrets of the Pharaohs at the onsite IMAX theater, is also extended to Nov. 28, 2010. $8.25 ages 18-59, $5 ages 4-12, $6 seniors and students with I.D. The California Science Center, 700 Exposition Park Drive.www.californiasciencecenter.org.