Wednesday, November 10, 2010

History Meets Science: Making a Chicken Mummy

Two of my favorite subjects are history and science.  Needless to say, when I acquired the activity guide to our history curriculum and found a project called:  Make a Chicken Mummy---I was intrigued!  For the adventurous lot of you out there, I am including detailed instructions on how to make your own chicken mummy.  We named ours "Cluck-O-Patra."

I used to think that it took hundreds or thousands of years to make a mummy.  When I would look at the dehydrated remains of bodies, I naturally thought that it was just time that had dried them to a crispy crunch.  As it turns out, there was much more to it.  For older children, here is where the biology part comes in.  You know how people associate salt with water retention?  Well, it is a fact that water follows salt.  So, if there is a lot of sodium, there will surely be a lot of retained water.  If you put a human cell into a dish of salt water, the salt will pull all of the water out of the cell and the cell crenates, or shrinks.  Water will follow the salt in order to balance out the concentrations both inside and outside the cell.    This is one of the reasons why you can't just preserve a drop of blood on a microscope slide in a drop of water.  Pure water is hypotonic, meaning that the concentration is less than that of the blood cell, therefore, water is pulled into the cell and it ruptures.  But with the higher concentration of sodium and other particles outside the cell, water is pulled from the cell and it shrinks.  This principle was used in preservation of mummies.

Here is what you will need for your experiment:

Several boxes of cheap baking soda
Several cans of baking powder
One small whole fryer
Large freezer bags
Plastic gloves
Rubbing alcohol
Several boxes of salt---I found that canning salt was the cheapest.

You may want to finish off your mummy and keep it for a while.  If so you will need:

Various spices (cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg..)
Scented oil (recipe follows)
White glue and water
White linen strips (or any other fabric you have on hand)

2.  Remove the neck and packet with the liver, heart, gizzard, etc...  You can mummify these, but they smell!
3.  Wash your chicken in hot water.  Dry with paper towels.  Make sure you wash the inside of the bird too.  Wash the entire bird with rubbing alcohol, including the inside.  This will decrease the amount of bacteria on the bird .  Dry as much as possible with paper towels before continuing.

4.  Mix 1/2 box of baking soda with 1/2 can of baking powder and 2 boxes of salt.  The baking soda and powder increase the acidity of the mix and decrease the amount of bacterial growth.  Next I recommend that you add a teaspoon of a good-smelling spice, like cinnamon.  It helps combat the smell.   The mixture is very close to the Egyptian natron that was used in large tubs to preserve bodies.

Hannah smelling the cinnamon scented natron.

5.  Pour some of the mix into the cavity of the chicken until it is full.  Then pour some into a large freezer bag.  Put the chicken in the bag and add the rest of the mixture.  If the chicken isn't completely covered add more salt until it is.  Seal the bag.  Place into another freezer bag and seal that one too.

Ready for her journey into the afterlife

6.  Week 1:  Check the chicken every day.  If the salt is wet, PUT SOME GLOVES ON and remove chicken from the bag.  Dust off the bird and repeat step 4.  You will probably have to do this after day 1, 3, 5, so on.
7.  After week one :  Check the chicken once per week.  If the salt is wet repeat step four.
8.  At the end of week 6, PUT ON YOUR GLOVES,  remove the chicken from the bag dust off salt as completely as you can.  Wet a paper towel and wipe the remaining salt off of the bird.  Dry immediately and thoroughly with paper towels.
After one week, Cluck-O-Patra is pretty dehydrated.

At this point, you can see the major difference in your chicken.  The tissues will be dehydrated and the bird will be much lighter than when you started.  We actually saw dramatic differences in the first week.  The bird goes from that mushy feeling to a hard feeling quickly.  We stopped here and threw the bird away, but if you want to go that extra mile, you can continue to rub and wrap your bird as follows:

A jar with a lid
oil (cooking oil is cheapest)
Spices-any combination of 3-4 good smelling spices

You might want to hit the dollar racks for your spices.  Fill the jar to the top with the spice mixture, then pour oil over the top.  Set in a sunny location for a week, shaking the jar 2-3 time per day.  Drain the oil.

Rub the fragrance all over the chicken, inside and out.  Stuff the inside of the bird with fabric or sawdust.  Cut your fabric into 1- inch strips.  Mix glue and water 1-2 parts water to 1 part glue.  Dip your strips into the glue and begin wrapping.  Wrap wings and legs separately.  The body should be wrapped in 2-3 layers.  Let dry completely. 

Mummies were not always made with the same technique.  It varied according to the time period.  Here is a good link that provides a short read of the differences:

separate canopic jars and keep them with your chicken. 

 I have a feeling that this is one of those experiments my kids will not soon forget!  :)

1 comment:

  1. Hi Lori,

    History and science are two of my favorite subjects too! This is so cool. My 4 boys and I found a petrified cat! They thought it was the coolest thing ever, although they were sad that it had to die. They kept asking me how it died.



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