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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

How to Make a Mummy

Imagine you live in Egypt several thousand years ago (For those of you who live in parts of the Midwest this will be a special struggle - just pretend the 18 inches of snow you just got is sand and you'll feel right at home).  Your pharaoh just died and the priests are preparing his body for the journey to the afterlife (at least that's what they THINK - we know they are preparing the body for public display in a museum far away in the future).  It was kind of a big deal, this mummifying, and you can't really escape it if you do any reading about Ancient Egypt, and it is the reading about Ancient Egypt that brings me to today's post.

Way back in Ancient October, Ian was reading about the Old Kingdom of Egypt in his history curriculum (The Story of the World, Vol. 1) and one of the possible enrichment activities was "Mummify a Chicken."  While it seemed lacking in actual educational value, it did seem likely to be fun and memorable, so we decided to give it a try.  

A word on supplies: Buy the smallest chicken you can find!  Smaller chickens mean using less of the other ingredients and less time to completion.  Also, don't worry about any of those things that people worry about when buying a chicken for eating, like free-range, or non-soy fed, or non-antibiotic-ed.  Mummies don't care about these things.  Go for cheap.  However, you might want to buy disposable gloves, if you are squeamish about touching things that have been dead for a while.  I didn't, and we didn't get salmonella or Ebola or anything, but I suppose the possibility is there.  We did wash our hands frequently!
 Okay, on to the show!
 It turns out my boy hasn't spent enough time hunting or farming, and he was less then thrilled about reaching into the body cavity of the chicken.  We'll be working on that.....
Eventually we got the chicken all washed (first with lots and lots of water and then with rubbing alcohol) and dried.
 When the chicken was prepared, we made the salt mixture.  Modern mummies are made from table salt (one box), baking soda (half a box) and baking powder (half a box).  Ground cinnamon and ground cloves are added to mask any potential unpleasant odors.
 Next, the inside of the chicken is packed with the salt before the whole body is covered in it.  A double layer of freezer bag is a good idea!  Then the chicken is set in some discreet place to begin the drying process.  If you were an ancient pharaoh, I suppose you rested in state in some temple, but if you are a chicken, the top of the refrigerator is a good place.  For the first week, the salt mixture has to be changed every 2-3 days, as the moisture is drawn out of the carcass, but the more dry the chicken gets, the longer the time between changes.  Our chicken took about 5 weeks to fully dry out.
 Last week, our chicken was ready to move on to the next step in the process.  We took it out of the bag and washed and dried it again.  (Note: the chicken did not smell, except of cloves.  The chicken was not slimy - it felt like jerky).  Then we rubbed it with olive oil.
 Finally we got to the step made famous in all the many mummy movies: the bandages.  The Egyptians used strips of linen.  I used old, cut up cloth diapers.  Same difference, right?  We dipped the strips in a paste made up of two parts white glue to one part water (you can eye-ball this one, it's not super precise), and began to wrap the chicken.  First the wings and drumsticks, then the entire body.
 Once the chicken was fully wrapped, it went back to the top of the refrigerator to dry again.  After three days it was dry (still no smell!) and ready to finish.  At first Ian was prepared to build a coffin AND sarcophagus for our mummy, but in the end he settled on some decorative painting. 
 We admired our mummy for a few minutes and then there was nothing left to do but to entomb it.
Good-bye, Chicken Mummy.

Happy school projects, everyone!


~ Tandis ~ said...

You two are funny. Good work. I'm too chicken to do that project with my kids. hahahahahaha.

Jessica said...

I laughed my way through the whole process, especially the part about the pharoah lying-in-state, but not the chicken.