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Engaging Students in Learning is Messy Work, Part 3

This week I will share part three of the Egyptian Project. If you missed the introduction to this project, you can find it here. Part two described the research and creation of Egyptian artifacts is available here,.

Depending on your commitment to “getting your hands dirty” and gross-tolerance, this part is the both the most-popular and most avoided portion of the project by both students and teachers.

Having said that, this project and easily be dropped, if you choose. But if you are open to it, this is hands-down the most memorable project by students ever completed. As I mentioned in the first newsletter, I had students coming back seven to ten years later to tell me that they still remembered this project!

Chicken Mummification Process

DESCRIPTION: This lesson provides students with the opportunity to develop their understanding of the Ancient Egyptians by engaging in the mummification procedure and methodologically documenting the process.

GOALS: Students will experience the scientific process of mummification and develop an understanding that mummification was an essential part of the religion of Ancient Egypt.

OBJECTIONS: Students will be able to engage in the scientific process of mummification and follow through and document the process over a long period of time.

Before I get into the actual project, it is important to not a couple of things.

Firstly, we are using a raw chicken for this experiment. As a result, please keep it refrigerated until you are ready to start the project. I know that should be common sense, but I have had teachers try to duplicate this project who did not apparently know that an unrefrigerated chicken will rot unless preserved immediately using the method below.

Secondly, since we are using a raw chicken, it is important to have the students use silicone gloves when touching the chicken. They should wash their hands afterwards with soap and water. The area used for the experiment should also be wiped down with Clorox wipes after each class finished the days procedure.

Additionally, I laid down black plastic garbage bags over the area to contain the mess.

One more note. We used a whole chicken obtained from a Asian grocery store which still had its head and feet attached to add to the realism, but this is not necessary.

If you do decide to use a whole chicken, you do not need to remove the brain. It is so small on a chicken that it will dry out just fine.

I also let the class propose names for the chicken and then vote on them. Some of my favorite names were Chick Norris the Great, Tutanchicken, and Cluckinra.



  • A whole chicken

  • Box of plastic gloves

  • 5 26-oz. containers of Salt

  • 2 large containers of Cinnamon spice

  • Paper towels

  • Box of zip-lock freezer strength plastic bags – gallon size

  • Several rolls of gauze strips

  • Plastic container to hold chicken in the bag in case of leakage.

  • 4 baby food jars

  • Cardboard box for sarcophagus


  1. Have students create a class journal of the experiment. Each group can record their findings when they begin their procedures and what they did. Photos of the condition of the chicken would be great additions.

  2. Wearing gloves students will remove entrails from the chicken. These will be preserved in smaller baggies and put in baby food jars. (Optional)

  3. At sink, thoroughly rinse both inside and out of the chicken. Do this until the liquid runs clear.

  4. The cleaning group needs a large supply of paper towels. Dry the chicken inside and out, especially under the legs and wings. THIS IS CRITICAL. It is the moisture which creates problems in the process.

  5. Each group needs about ½ cup of spices. Any spice which is cheap and will smell good will do (I used cinnamon). The purpose of the spices is to mask the odor while the chicken is drying out. They don’t serve any purpose of the chemical process of mummification. Rub the spices all over the chicken.

  6. Each group will make a mixture comparable to natron (used by the Egyptians) by combining 1 cup of table salt with 1 cup of Epsom salt and 1 cup of baking soda. Rub the salt mixture over the entire body. Make sure every inch of the body is covered and dry, dry, dry. NOTE: If in doubt, the more salt the better! You can always double the salt recipe if you want. The ancient Egyptians completely submerged the bodies in the natron, with drainage holes in the bottom of the container, and left them for 26 weeks. Since we don’t have access to similar facilities, we will have to follow a different procedure. And this method also allows us to see the progress of the mummification on a week-to-week basis.

  7. Fill the cavity with salt mixture.

  8. Place each chicken in the zip-lock bag. Pour the remaining salt into the bag and cover the chicken. Seal. You may also want to double-bag the chicken. NOTE: Double-check that the students sealed the bags tightly. Place in the plastic tub. Also store away from direct sunlight. I recommend putting it in a dark cupboard.

  9. As the process occurs, there will be drainage from the carcass. There should not be a strong odor of rotting, though you may smell a faint smell of spices. If you do smell a strong rotting smell, then something when wrong. I never had a problem in conducting this experiment twelve times.

  10. Once a week for 4 to 5 weeks, someone must open the bag and pull out the chicken. Seal the liquid in the bag and dispose of it. The chicken must be dried and re-salted (using the same mixture above), re-spiced, and placed in a clean bag. Empty and refill the cavity also.

  11. Repeat this process until there is no more accumulation of liquid in the bag.

  12. Wrap the mummy in gauze strips. Direct students to pull the gaze tightly over the body and overlap the previous row.

  13. Place the chicken in the completed sarcophagus (as described in the last newsletter). Decorate the body with “authentic” Egyptian amulets, death mask, medallions, jewels, etc.

There will be 6 groups with 3 - 4 students each. Groups will rotate to work on the chicken each week.

Next week I will provide the instructions for the Archeologist Journal.

Until then, have a great week!

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