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Engaging Students in Learning is Messy Work, Part 2

As promised last week, here is the second part of the Egyptian Project. If you missed the introduction to this project last week, you can find it here.

I should first say that this was a five-week project due the time needed to complete the chicken mummification, which I will discuss next week.

I broke the class into six groups. Each Friday one group would work on the chicken, while the rest of the class worked on the other parts of the project.

When I first started this project nearly 20 years ago, we didn’t have one-to-one Chrome Books, like many classrooms do now. So, I had provided numerous books with images of Egyptian artifacts. Of course, now students could simply look up images on the Internet.

Students were asked to make two objects one artifact out of clay and one page from the Book of the Dead.

I asked students to pick an artifact to recreate in clay, which they would then “find” in their role as archeologists. There were certain items that were required, and students signed up to make them.

The required items are:

  • Pharoah’s death mask

  • Crown

  • Sceptre

  • Crook and Flail

  • Ankh

  • Eye of Re

  • Eye of Horus

  • Scarab beetle

  • Four canopic jar heads (Imsety the human god who protected the liver; Hapy the baboon-headed god who looked after the lungs; Duamutef with the head of jackal who guarded the stomach; Qebehsenuef, the falcon-headed god who watched over the intestines) – one student would be assigned to each jar.

Other ideas for artifacts students could choose to make include jewelry, hieroglyphic tablets, personal, and household items.

Students were asked to make the items as authentic looking as possible.

I provided air-dry clay, paint, and brushes for many of the artifacts. We covered the desks with newspaper to protect the desks and students wore old shirts or smocks to protect their clothing.

I asked students to research their artifact and answer the following questions:

  1. What is the object and what purpose did it serve?

  2. Did it have a practical purpose purpose? If so, what was it used for?

  3. Did the artifact have a symbolic meaning? If so, what meaning did it have, or what did it represent?

  4. Why were these items buried with the dead pharaoh? What does that fact tell archeologist about this civilization?

For the Book of the Dead, I provided paper grocery sacks which we tore open to create old-looking paper for the pages of the Book of the Dead with markers and copies of guides showing the hieroglyphic symbols and their meanings. Students were expected to duplicate the Egyptian stylistic methods with images above and text below to tell a story, parable, or blessing.

Two or three students were chosen to make the sarcophagus, instead of pages from the Book of the Dead.

The sarcophagus was made from large boot boxes. I pre-painted them with stone-textured paint. Students would then add Egyptian-styled images and hieroglyphic text onto the top and sides of the box.

I also spray-painted four glass or plastic jars with the stone-textured paint to serve as the base of the canopic jars. The top heads would then be glued onto the top of the jars.


WEEK 1: Planning period. Students researched their chosen artifact and answer the questions provided. They could also start sketching out what they wanted to make.

WEEK 2: Clay modeling. Students created their clay project and left it to dry.

WEEK 3: Students painted their project and left it to dry.

WEEK 4: Students started working on their pages from the Book of the Dead or two or three students worked on the coffin instead.

WEEK 5: The student group would work on the chicken mummification process (to be described new week).

WEEK 6: Students finish their pages from the Book of the Dead or the Sarcophagus. At the end of class after the final group has wrapped the mummy, students will place their artifacts in the Sarcophagus with the mummy.


I did find it helpful to have two or three parents volunteer to help supervise the students on Fridays while we were working on this project, though with older students wouldn’t be as necessary.

Next week I will provide the instructions for the Chicken Mummification process.

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