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Chicken Mummies for Christmas

December 18, 2012

While everyone else seems to be steeped in gingerbread, Santas, reindeer, and snowmen this last week before Christmas break, my class’s focus was on…mummies. Chicken mummies, to be exact.

This year’s history curriculum centers around the Ancients. So, we’ve been studying Ancient Egypt. The eager First Year Teacher in me decided that my small class size enabled us to get really hands-on. What better way to make Ancient Egypt come to life than making our own mummies?

Ah, the bliss of the unknown.

I decided to make one mummy for every two students. So, I purchased four chickens at the market and set out to enthrall my students.

We began the Great Chicken Mummification Project back in October. I had one parent volunteer the first day. The kids were curious, but a little doubtful, about what we were about to undertake. It took me a few tries to clarify that we were mummifying store-bought chickens, not slaughtering live chickens to preserve. (They all breathed a sigh of relief at that.) Our first project day was spent cleaning the chickens with alcohol, which caused a lot of drama over the smell. Then we dried our chickens and packed them in Ziplock bags in a mixture of baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Disinfecting our chickens with alcohol

Disinfecting our chickens with alcohol

We filled the chicken cavity with a salt/baking soda/baking powder mixture. Adding the baking soda and baking powder more closely resembles the salt from the Nile region.

We filled the chicken cavity with a salt/baking soda/baking powder mixture. Adding the baking soda and baking powder more closely resembles the salt from the Nile region.

My students got creative in naming their chickens.

My students got creative in naming their chickens.

We repeated the process–minus the alcohol step–three days later, then approximately once a week for several weeks. It was a messy process and usually took longer than it should. I also never had a parent helper again until the last week when we finally wrapped our chickens. Needless to say, I got a bit tired of the process. But, I was determined not to just give it up. I figured, if nothing else, I was teaching my students about persistence and seeing a project through. That being said, I must confess that after about the fifth time of changing out the salt, I was bored of the process and let the chickens sit in the same salt for about three weeks. But, since they were mostly dry by that time, I didn’t worry about it.

It was interesting to observe the shrinkage of the chickens over time. At the beginning of the process, they barely fit into the bags. By the end, they were easy to insert.

Finally, it was time to wrap our chickens. I enlisted two extra helpers for this part. That was a good move. I really couldn’t have done it with fewer. We removed all the salt from our chickens. Then we rubbed them with cinnamon and cloves. At this point they smelled quite pleasant.

We rubbed the chickens with cinnamon and cloves to make them smell good.

We rubbed the chickens with cinnamon and cloves to make them smell good.

Next, we brushed our chickens with oil. Dabbing the oil on with paintbrushes worked better than brushing it on.

We brushed our spiced chickens with oil. You can also use fragrance-infused oil and skip the spice step.

We covered our spiced chickens with oil. You can also use fragrance-infused oil and skip the spice step.

Finally, it was time to wrap the chickens. My students’ parents had donated t-shirt strips and sheet-strips. Since the t-shirt strips were skinnier, we used those for the wings and legs. Each strip was dipped in a glue and water mixture, much like papier mache, before wrapping around the chicken. I will not use t-shirt material again. Its tendency is to roll, making it difficult to smooth. The sheet strips worked better, although they were cut a bit wider than the recommended two inches. I had little plastic jewels and beads that the kids inserted between the layers, just like was done for the pharoahs. (Except, of course, their jewels were real.  Because, as we all know, you can never be too prepared, especially when traveling.)

The whole wrapping process took longer than I anticipated (of course) and by the end of an hour and a half I and my helpers were just ready for those darn chickens to be wrapped. So, they’re not the most precisely-wrapped chickens you’ve ever laid eyes on. (Then again, I feel pretty confident that you don’t have a lot to compare to.)

Our chickens finally look like mummies.

Our chickens finally look like mummies.

Now, I have four mummies drying out in my classroom. Originally I thought we’d bury them. Further reflection has led me to believe the effort would be wasted. We don’t live in a dry climate, so unless we place the chickens in a cooler with a dehumidifying agent they’d probably rot or mold. And, a cooler would require quite a big hole to be dug. I think we’ll just decorate them with hieroglyphics once the linen has dried. And then, who knows? I, for one, am ready to move on.

The timing worked out perfectly, though. We are visiting the King Tut exhibit in a few days. I have no doubt that my students will have a greater appreciation for how much work it took to preserve humans. Which, I suppose, fulfills my purpose of giving them a greater understanding and appreciation of people who lived before us.

Will I do this again with another class? Hmm. We study history on a two-year rotation. Next year it’s the Middle Ages. So, perhaps in two years I’ll have forgotten how much work this was and will only remember the cool factor…maybe.

 

 

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From → Special Projects

3 Comments
  1. Clever project. Perhaps some future explorer will find these four birds and develop a theory related to chicken worship. Hmmm, wonder if this is what happens when we find archaeological sites now? Love reading your posts!
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  2. OK– I am totally impressed that you attempted this! It hits so many levels of learning. By the way, you should read http://www.stinkymeat.net/stinkymeat/day1/. I think you might appreciate this man’s totally ridiculous project to irritate his neighbor. Not sure why your mummified chickens made me think of the stinky meat project! Happy New Year!

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