Rogers Middle School seventh grade teacher Joan Costello first read of chicken mummification on the internet about 10 years ago. “I thought it seemed like an incredible activity to do with my students. So, for the last 7 years I have led my students in the experience of embalming and wrapping a chicken.”
This year all grade 7 sections did the mummification project. This hands-on project coincides with the seventh graders’ study of ancient civilizations specifically of Ancient Egypt.
Properly mummifying a chicken takes about a month and Mrs. Costello’s classes began in early December. It all started with one chicken per class. “Each of my four sections of Ancient History got their own Cornish Game Hen,” explained Mrs. Costello.
Before touching any poultry, students learned about the process of mummification and why it was done. Mrs. Costello then led them in brainstorming all of the implements and jobs necessary for a proper mummification. “Students articulated 18 implements and 33 jobs.”
Students were then given individual responsibilities as to who would be making each of the items and who would be completing specific tasks and playing what roles. Collectively, students brought in over 40 pounds of salt for the process.
After a brief entrance and purification ceremony the first stage was undertaken. Students washed their chicken, applied sweet smelling spices and oils to it and then packed it in “natron”- a combination of salt and baking soda. The birds were left on Mrs. Costello’s lab table for a week and then the steps were repeated.
After vacation, on January 4th, the four birds were ready for wrapping and final entombment. As part of this final stage, spells of luck and protection were cast on the birds, and their possessions and conopic jars were placed in the tomb with them. Canopic jars are covered urns used in ancient Egyptian burials to hold the entrails from an embalmed body. The very important “Opening of the Mouth” incantation was also read.
In June the students will “raid” the tomb and check to see if and how the chickens changed over the 5 months they stayed in the classroom tomb.
Mrs. Costello said the project is a hit with students. “The kids love the whole thing. It’s fun, goofy, and incredibly interesting all at the same time. Plus, the results are really remarkable.”
Students’ reactions showed that they enjoyed the project and developed understandings of ancient Egyptian culture.