The Art of Darkness

Making a Mummy

May 19th, 2011 by Cobwebs

Tomb PaintingI’m veering into science-fair territory a little bit here, but bear with me.

I recently ran across this article on BoingBoing which discusses a chicken mummification currently in progress at the Science Museum of Minnesota. I was struck by several things: 1) The comments on the article which indicated that this is a common elementary school science project (and also that it shouldn’t stink); 2) The comments which discussed other animals that could be given the same treatment. 3) The fact that they named the mummified chicken Nefertweety.

I did a bit of research and found that there are a bazillion pages devoted to mummifying chickens,* and no two of them seem to agree on a method. So here’s an amalgam of instructions from a number of sites, with notes about differences in technique. In addition to being an interesting educational project to do with kids, you could also use mummified bits as jewelry or art. It might also be possible–perhaps by practicing on chickens until you’re sure of your technique–to send a beloved pet into the afterlife this way.

You will need:

  • A small animal to mummify. A chicken or game hen seems to be the standard, but I’ve also seen projects that use fish, squid, and mice/rats. All but the last are available at the grocery store. Frozen mice and rats are available at many pet stores and via mail order; they’re used as reptile food.** Note that animals can’t be mummified with their internal organs in place, so if you’re squeamish about the idea of gutting an animal you should probably stick with a grocery-store chicken.
  • A drying agent. You can use salt, a mixture of salt and baking soda (a ratio of 2 parts salt to 1 part soda seems to be the standard), or sodium carbonate. The latter is natron, which is what was traditionally used for Egyptian mummies. It’s available at grocery stores (look for “washing soda” or “soda ash”) or at swimming pool supply stores.
  • Disposable plastic or rubber gloves.
  • Several resealable plastic bags, large enough to contain both your mummy and plenty of drying agent.
  • Lots of paper towels.
  • Rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol. This is an optional component, but it appears that using it will reduce the odor significantly. Its use also jibes with the Egyptian practice of washing the body in wine.
  • Spices such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice (whole rather than ground) and/or dried rose petals. These are optional, but can be mixed into the drying agent to help perfume the mummy. They can also be used to scent anointing oil.
  • Oil to anoint the finished mummy (optional). You can use food-grade oil like canola oil or olive oil, mineral oil, or even baby oil. To perfume unscented oil with spices or rose petals, fill a small lidded jar with whole spices or dried petals and then pour in enough oil to cover. Close the lid tightly and place in a sunny location for a week. Give the jar a good shake a couple of times a day. Strain and discard the spices/petals. If you prefer, you can also perfume the oil with essential oils: Just add them until the desired scent is achieved.
  • Strips of gauze, cheesecloth, plain cotton, or linen, if you wish to wrap your finished product.

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