Having been challenged to write instructions on how to make a mummy the year three teachers invited all 90 year 3 children to take part in a chicken mummification ‘ceremony’ inspired by the 3000 year old Ancient Egyptian process.
Whilst smelling the sweet aroma of frankincense the children heard the live story-telling of an Ancient Egyptian myth of the first mummification involving the envious Seth, god of evil; tricking, killing and cutting his brother King Osiris’s body into 14 pieces and hurling them across the Nile. And of Isis, beloved wife of Osiris crying in sorrow at her husbands death, thus flooding the Nile. Then journeying to find the bits and put them back together so mummifying Osiris’s mutilated body with the help of the god Anubis. Read the story here.
Volunteers took turns to help in the mummification process as the others looked on enthralled listening to the parallels made to the mummification of a human body by ancient Egyptians. More about how ancient Egyptians mummified their dead here, here, and here.
What you need:
- Small baby chicken gutted (I used a halal one because there is less blood in halal chicken as it’s drained out during the slaughtering process- perhaps this might make the mummifying process less smelly)
- Dishwasher salt -3 x kg bags
- Rock or sea salt (with no iodine added)
- Bicarbonate of soda -2 containers approx
- White wine vinegar-1 cup full
- Optional- dried lavender flowers or rosemary leaves
- 3kg seal tight plastic container
- Kitchen towel
- Antibacterial wipes
- Bin with bin bags
- Incense (optional)
- A table
- A large bowl
- With gloves on Wash chicken with white wine vinegar, inside and out thoroughly ( this kills germs)
- Dab chicken dry with kitchen towel
- Mix in large bowl the rock salt, 1 bag dishwasher salt, half container of bicarbonate of soda (approximate measurements given)
- Create a ‘bed’ of the salt mixture in the base of the plastic container and add some dried herbs if using
- Place washed and dried chicken on bed of salt mixture
- Stuff salt mixture in every nook cranny and crevice of the chicken as well as the inside ( if using a chicken that isn’t gutted you could take these out and also preserve them in salt in home made canopic jars.
- Then pour rest of salt mixture over top of stuffed chicken
- Sprinkle on some more bicarbonate of soda (keeps away any bad odours)
- Leave in covered plastic container for 6 weeks or until mummification process is completed.
- Check on it every two weeks and replace all the salt mixture once at around 3-4 week point
NB of course whilst demonstrating and involving children, health and safety must be adhered to. Incense can be burned as Ancient Egyptians would have done. The chicken can be weighed before, during and after the mummification process for scientific purposes.
I’ve kept the mummifying chicken in the classroom, closed and out of the way of nosey children for some time and it’s been so easy to keep, bring out and show as well as maintain throughout the process.
Below are photos of the chicken 5 weeks into its mummification. I’d like to add that not at any time during this process has there ever been any unpleasant smell. In fact there is a slight smell of soap (probably from the dishwasher salt) as well as the gorgeous smell of lavender and perhaps just a whiff of old leather shoes.
Above I am squeezing the leg, it’s become quite firm and stiff but is still slightly too pink to be fully completed yet. But you can see how the skin has dried out and is now tightly following the shape of the bone beneath.
Above I’m pointing to the inside of the leg that has been face down on the salt bed is beginning to turn brown. A good sign meaning it is nearer to full mummification.
Above the chicken is beginning to take on a squashed appearance as the salt draws out the water and begins to dry it out.
Here you can see that the fleshy breast is far less mummified than other parts. My finger can press into the flesh still and leave an impression. This part needs much more time in the salt. The colour is also still pinkish.
I shall post more photos when it has completely mummified. We also hope to embalm it (wrap it in bandages) so these pictures will follow.
I hope this post helps make this really exciting activity accessible to your classroom thus bringing to life this strange and ancient art. (NB although we have parents of vegetarian/vegan children in our classes I’d like to add that no one made any complaint or comment about the process and all the children have been fully engaged throughout.)