Yep, we’re making a mummy chicken. For real.
We’ve been studying some basic facts about ancient Egyptians, including their writing system, which was among the first in the world, and their burial practices. Without getting to much into why, we compared how we prepare bodies for burial with how they did, and read some articles on real life mummies and how they teach us about the past. Which led to my 7 year old saying, “I wish we could make a mummy.”
Now, I like to think I am a pretty cool Mom. One who encourages her kids to explore their interests, and who guides them through things that are a little beyond their reach to help them grasp it. Still, I was a little hesitant. But one of the books we use regularly, The Story of the World Volume 1 (and workbook – both great if you’re looking for history books) had plans for doing just that–making a real mummy. A chicken mummy, of course, but still interesting. And I’m a science kind of girl, so I have to admit I was interested too. So we’re going for it–and will chronicle the whole adventure for you to read, too. And so Pharaoh Chicken was “hatched”!
The basic premise of the project is to take a whole chicken (OK, actually cleaned, feathered, and headless), wash it, dry it, and wrap it like the ancient Egyptians did. We’re also going to make a sarcophagus (from a shoe box) and possibly bury the chicken, unless the kids decide they want to keep it (apparently it won’t smell at all at the end and can be kept for years of viewing…pleasure?)
So that’s the why. Now on to the how:
Start by making what we lovingly call “mummy salt.” It is an acidic salt similar to the kind used by the Egyptians to dry out the bodies of mummies. The recipe seems to be kind of vague, but the one we decided on was 1 box of baking soda, 1 container of baking powder, and 2 boxes of salt (about 1 3/4lbs each). Mix all of this into a big bowl.
Now on to your chicken. Pretty much any chicken (or for that matter, other stuffable bird and even animal) would work. My kids feel like the first thing you should do is name your chicken. We went with Pharaoh Chicken. Meet Pharaoh Chicken:
On to the mummification! Wash and dry your chicken (we decided on kosher, even though we won’t be eating it, just so we don’t have any potential issues). Then rinse the chicken with alcohol – or wine, like the Egyptians. Again, we went with kosher, so wine seemed a little pricy. Rubbing alcohol was our alcohol of choice to start the drying and kill off some bacteria:
Now it’s time to really start drying out Pharaoh Chicken. Put your chicken into a freezer bag with some mummy salt, and pack some mummy salt into the cavity. (Yes those are kid hands wearing huge gloves held on by rubber bands. We’re apparently deviating from authenticity so they don’t actually have to touch the chicken with their bare hands. Which is OK with me, too.)
Add more mummy salt to the top and shake the whole thing up. Save the extra mummy salt for later.
The instructions go on to say to check the chicken every day and replace the mummy salt when it gets a little wet, so if you squeeze some, it holds the shape. Other people seem to have waited a week. Well…we did this on Wednesday afternoon, but I got sick Wednesday afternoon and spent Thursday in the hospital, Friday recovering, Saturday was Shabbat, and today was normal Sunday stuff…so we’ll be checking back in 5 days later and replacing the salt as needed. Hopefully he’s not too smelly, but I guess we’ll see!
For the updated status of Pharaoh Chicken, click here.