Mummifying Chickens

A chicken mummy anointed, adorned, and nestled in its sarcophagus.     ©2012 Beret Olsen

posted by Gina

Age Range: 7 and up

Ancient Egypt is a topic that rarely fails to capture the imagination, whether a 2nd grader’s or a high school student’s.  The mythology is both beautiful and harsh, with enough romance and bloodthirst to satisfy young people across the interest spectrum.

In terms of an easy yet spectacular home project, nothing is more fabulous than a homemade mummy, whether the project comes at the end of a unit of study or opens the door to further reading and research.   

You will need:

  • A whole chicken or game hen (game hens are smaller, which will make the project a little easier)
  • A boatload of salt (regular salt, no need to be fancy)  ** Beret says: For a regular chicken, we used one or two 26 ounce boxes of salt each time we changed the salt…for a total of 12 boxes.
  • A Ziploc bag, large enough to hold your chicken.  ** Beret says: If you’re using a full-sized chicken, chances are it won’t fit in a regular large bag. You may want to hunt around for two-gallon Ziploc bags.
  • Olive oil
  • An old sheet or pillowcase
  • One shoe or shoe-type box with a cover that will fit your chicken comfortably inside
  • Paint

Wash your chicken and dry it thoroughly.  Make sure any innards are disposed of (perhaps discussing the various techniques the Egyptians used to do the same?).  **Beret says: If the head were still on, for example, you could bore a hole above the nose and fish the brains out with a hook.

In the Ziploc, pack the chicken in salt, making sure all parts of the chicken are completely covered.

Seal the Ziploc, store in a cool, dry place, and leave.

Once a week, completely change over the salt.  Brush the old salt off the chicken with a paper towel, but don’t get wet.  Repack, reseal (you may need to change the bag, if salt gets into the seal), and re-set aside.

We were TERRIFIED that the chicken would smell revolting. Actually, though, it just smelled a bit like roast chicken. Not scary at all.                                                              ©2012 Beret Olsen
We used a spoon to help scrape off the salt. And gloves, because I am a little squeamish.                                                                            ©2012 Beret Olsen

Meanwhile, create your chicken mummy’s sarcophagus by painting and decorating the shoe or shoe-type box.  This is a great opportunity to do some research into Egyptian decorations and hieroglyphics.  The Met in NYC and the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose could make excellent day trips if you’re in the area – be sure to bring a sketch pad.

**Beret says:  Since this is a long term project, you may want to name your dead friend and learn to write her name in hieroglyphics.  Here is a site to help you translate.  We honored our little Cleopatra by painting her name on the sarcophagus.  It seemed like the least we could do.

After 6-7 weeks, your chicken will be mummified.  **Beret says: You will know your mummy is ready because no liquid will drain off of it and there should be no odor.  Unpack your mummy and clean the salt off with a paper towel or dry paintbrush.

Cut your sheet or pillowcase into strips and paint with a little olive oil.  Wrap your chicken attractively.  Alternatively:  dip the strips into matte medium or Mod-Podge – once they dry they’ll be shellacked.    

We anointed Cleo with lavender oil before wrapping, to make handling her more appealing.                                                                                   ©2012 Beret Olsen

Once your mummy has fully dried, place in sarcophagus.  Supply the chicken with items it will need or want in the afterlife – I suggest clipped photos or drawings.  Eggs, maybe some grass.  A magazine, perhaps.

©2012 Beret Olsen

At this point, your mummy is ready for burial, if there are no objections on the part of the creators.  The bonus of this step is, of course, that you do not need to keep your mummy around your apartment forever.  Since not all of us are blessed with outdoor space, you may need to get creative: a neighbor’s yard, a planter box, the garbage chute.

Should you really want to go whole hog, mark your burial site and dig your chicken up in a year, using a professional archaeological approach.

Curriculum Connection: Ancient Civilizations,  Mythology,  Science – dehydration, salt and preservatives

**Beret says: The science involved here is pretty simple.  The salt dries out the carcass.  End of story.  The historical research can be seriously FASCINATING, however.  For more on traditional methods of mummification, try, or good ‘ol wikipedia.  King Tut One also discusses the mummy’s curse, which was a story that excited me to no end as a child.  Lastly, I’ve included a link to learning to use hieroglyphics.  It’s a very simple break down of sounds and their associated glyphs.

 Related Literature:

  • The Winged Cat, Deborah Nourse Lattimore (fiction, older reader picture book)
  • The Egypt Game, Zilpha Keatley Snyder (fiction, chapter book, middle readers)
  • The Kane Chronicles, Rick Riordan (fiction, chapter book series, middle readers)
  • Mummies Made in Egypt, Aliki, (non-fiction, picture book)
  • Pyramid, David Macaulay (non-fiction, older reader picture book)

Author: Gina L. Grandi

Moderately well-read. Fairly socially awkward. According to Greg, 'a sentimental cynic with artistic sensibilities.' Somewhat nifty.

2 thoughts on “Mummifying Chickens”

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