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Inhospitable volcanic lake preserves animals' bodies

Max Ehrenfreund
A calcified swallow from Lake Natron. The salty lake is an inhospitable place; algae sometimes give the water a pinkish tinge, but not much else lives there. Illustrates MUMMY-BIRDS (category l), by Max Ehrenfreund (c) 2013, The Washington Post. Moved Tuesday, October 22, 2013. (MUST CREDIT: Photos © Nick Brandt 2013/ Courtesy of Hasted Kraeutler Gallery.)
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A calcified flamingo; Lake Natron\u2019s chemistry is a result of Ol Doinyo Lengai, the world\u2019s only active volcano of its kind. It spews a lava containing sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda. Illustrates MUMMY-BIRDS (category l), by Max Ehrenfreund (c) 2013, The Washington Post. Moved Tuesday, October 22, 2013. (MUST CREDIT: Photos © Nick Brandt 2013/ Courtesy of Hasted Kraeutler Gallery.)
BRANDT
A calcified bat; the photos of the birds found in Tanzania\u2019s Lake Natron appear in Brandt\u2019s new book, \u201CAcross the Ravaged Land.\u201D Illustrates MUMMY-BIRDS (category l), by Max Ehrenfreund (c) 2013, The Washington Post. Moved Tuesday, October 22, 2013. (MUST CREDIT: Photos © Nick Brandt 2013/ Courtesy of Hasted Kraeutler Gallery.)
BRANDT
Photographer Nick Brandt recovered birds from the shores of Lake Natron in Tanzania, placed the animals in "living positions" in an attempt to bring them back to "life,\u201D and photographed them. The shallow lake\u2019s chemistry preserves the bodies of the dead, like the fish eagle here, encrusting them in salt. Illustrates MUMMY-BIRDS (category l), by Max Ehrenfreund (c) 2013, The Washington Post. Moved Tuesday, October 22, 2013. (MUST CREDIT: Photos © Nick Brandt 2013/ Courtesy of Hasted Kraeutler Gallery.)
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Near an unusual volcano in Tanzania is a shallow lake that preserves the bodies of dead animals, encrusting them in salt.

Lake Natron is an inhospitable place. It is hot, and water is scarce. The lake itself is too salty and alkaline to drink from. Algae sometimes give the water a pinkish tinge, but not much else lives there, except for a few Masai herders and flamingos that use the water as a moat to protect their nests from predators.

The lake's chemistry is a result of Ol Doinyo Lengai, the world's only active volcano of its kind. It spews a lava containing sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda. You could make a reasonably accurate replica of Lake Natron in your kitchen by dissolving Arm & Hammer in a bowl of water, said Thure Cerling, a geochemist at the University of Utah who has worked in the region for 40 years.

"It's an extremely fascinating place, and a really good place for getting wonderfully preserved animals," Cerling said. The lava's sodium dissolves in the water and essentially brines animals' carcasses like salt pork.

Photographer Nick Brandt recovered these animals from the shores of the lake and posed them to look as they would have in life. The photographs appear in Brandt's new book, "Across the Ravaged Land."


By Max Ehrenfreund
The Washington Post