African Lake Turns Animals to Stone

Science, dummy

….or at least pretty darn close. Lake Natron’s toxic environment is a watery graveyard to thousands of birds, reptiles, and small mammals in Tanzania. When the water level drops and bodies wash ashore, animals are found calcified, preserved like stone statues.

© Nick Brandt

Temperatures in the lake can reach 60 °C (140 °F), with an alkalinity between pH 9 and pH 10.5. This extremely basic pH level deters decomposition and in turn helps preserve remains.

But why? Well, the lake gets its name from natron, a natural salt compound commonly used by ancient Egyptians in their preservation and embalming process. Created by a mixture of hydrous sodium carbonate and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), it results from volcanic ash that accumulated from the Great Rift Valley. When an animal dies and falls in the lake, the high concentration of salt inhibits complete decay and begins to crystalize on the remains, protecting them from further…

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