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SOTW highlight: The chicken mummy


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This year, on our second loop through SOTW 1, we finally did the chicken mummy project.  I was completely engrossed from the first moment; the kids, mostly more grossed out.  However, it was such a great learning experience and I wanted to share some pics and extra details for others who could benefit from them.  

I was surprised how much good conversation came from just repeatedly gathering around the chicken to change its salt mixture.  We talked about food spoilage and preservation, bacteria, the mummification process, the importance of religion and ritual to the Egyptians as connected to the amount of time and resources they devoted to it, differences between our and their burial customs - heaps of stuff!  Because it was still going when our reading moved on to Assyria, Babylon and Greece, the kids were prompted to compare the civilizations in a way they may not have been otherwise.

The instructions in the activity guide were pretty clear and easy to follow.  There were a few things I wish I'd known before we started:

* It took longer than 40 days.  Actually, I think it took about 10 weeks in the end.

* It took a LOT of salt mix.  I guess we might have changed the mix about six times all up, and it uses a couple kilos (4 pounds?) each time.

* It is critical to change the salt every time it gets wet, and that really does mean after one day and then after two more days in the first week.  Our friends neglected to do this and theirs is still stinky now, whereas ours never stank.

* The squeamish kids never really got over their squeamishness.  It helps to provide disposable gloves and to be willing to do the "touching" parts for them.

* It would make a good science project.  If I'd had the kids weigh the chicken before we started, then again each week, we could have tracked how much water was being drawn out.  We could also have compared different kinds of mixtures/different conditions to see if we could find a faster or more efficient way to dehydrate the carcass.

The highlight for my kids was the ancillary stuff.  They loved painting "coffins", collecting grave goods (a bag of chicken feed for instance) and making amulets.  The chicken is now sealed in a series of coffins within a styrofoam "sarcophagus", and I am planning to keep it hanging around in our store room for four years and then let them "excavate" it on our next round of ancients and see how it has lasted.

The pics: the collected amulets and grave goods the kids came up with; two shots of the dried but unwrapped chicken - see how scrawny it looks, and how yellowy the remaining fat/skin is?  Those are changes from the process; and the wrapped chicken, ready to be interred in its caskets.

 

 

 

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It took me directing this project for the third time to realize if I wanted it shorter, I needed to use game hens, not a full sized bird.😄  It shortens it to 6-8 weeks.  Our last run through also included carving apple heads and shrinking them as well, creating a grotesque bird-man at the end.

Everything else I agree with: have gloves on hand, buy the giant bags of baking soda and salt, and make it the science for the weeks, too. 

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Speaking of ancillary stuff, older dd's favorite part of it was dressing in white linen to perform the salt-changing, pretending she was an Egyptian priest.  Someone had given us several yards of plain white linen which we used for the wrapping strips plus a tunic for her.

 

Our chicken lasted for years, and was even packed and moved by a professional moving company at one point.

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Posted (edited)

I was not brave enough for a chicken.   We did a peeled hard boiled egg (and I buried that sucker in a the salt/baking soda mix).   We did not wrap it.  We didn't weigh it but we did measure it.   And we kept a "control" egg which we let rot in a open tupperware container on the corner of our porch to compare.     

It was still super cool.   Maybe not chicken mummy level of cool, but still cool. 

 

Edited by goldenecho
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Posted (edited)
13 hours ago, Lilaclady said:

We kept ours for months in the garage. It kept well and never stank. The kids enjoyed it. 

I have ours still from 2013...still in the garage. Still doesn't stink. We did a Cornish game hen instead of a full chicken though. It was easier to deal with.

We did the papyrus activity as well. We had papyrus plants in our front yard until we redid our yard. I do know where to get some papyrus stalks though.

 

 

 

Edited by calbear
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On 5/27/2021 at 12:55 AM, goldenecho said:

I was not brave enough for a chicken.   We did a peeled hard boiled egg (and I buried that sucker in a the salt/baking soda mix).   We did not wrap it.  We didn't weigh it but we did measure it.   And we kept a "control" egg which we let rot in a open tupperware container on the corner of our porch to compare.     

It was still super cool.   Maybe not chicken mummy level of cool, but still cool. 

 

We did a hot dog - kept it in a Velveeta tupperware sarcophagus for a long time. 

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