May 15, 2008

I want my mummy

Students' Final Projects
Part IV - Mummification

I thought that more students would do the chicken mummification project. It seemed really simple; many websites encourage parents and teachers to use it as a project for elementary school kids, to learn about ancient Egypt and dessication, I guess. (Aside: I kind of wish my parents had told me that those little packets in shoeboxes were used to preserve mummies.) But only three students chose to mummify an animal; one group used a store-bought chicken, and one guy used a dead mouse he found in his backyard.

1. Kerri and Kathleen decided to do this project, even though they live in the dorms on campus. I was worried that the chicken would start smelling, particularly if students didn't change the salt often enough (i.e., when it becomes damp from absorbing the gooey rotting juices). I blogged about this earlier, as the chicken did indeed start to smell and they ended up keeping it at the house of another student who had a garage she didn't care about. Kerri, who named her lab skeleton as well, wrote that, "Of course she needed a name, and Geraldine seemed like the only logical thing, so Geraldine it was." Of course! Her paper also included phrases like, "... and the UNGODLY SMELL!" complete with caps and exclamation point. At any rate, here are the pictures they sent me to go with their ginger-teriyaki-Febreezed-chicken-mummy:

2. Chase also wanted to do the mummification project, but he hadn't started 4-6 weeks before the paper was due. I suggested that he use a smaller animal - maybe a Cornish game hen - so that it wouldn't take as long. He decided instead to use a dead mouse that he found in his backyard. Unlike a store-bought chicken, though, the mouse still had fur on it and all its innards. I suspect that was Chase's problem - the fur likely prevented the salt from thoroughly contacting the skin and leaching the moisture out of the carcass, and the innards just meant several more things that needed to be mummified. Judging by his pictures, though, I suspect he also didn't use enough salt. Mummification of a chicken takes bags and bags of salt (so I'm not sure if Kerri and Kathleen used enough either), and this mouse just looks like shake-n-bake. This has got to be my favorite picture from students' projects - the contrast between the salt-coated mouse carcass and the Christmas-themed ziploc had me in hysterics. The little spot of blood is kind of gross, though.

So overall, the mummification project failed to produce the results I was expecting from all the stuff I'd read on the web and was apparently far smellier and messier than I was led to believe. Ah well, lesson learned: Never assign mummies again.


Christopher Cline said...

Hey Kristina, this is Chris Cline. Our mutual acquaintance Chris Cameron has me looking at doing archaeological work again, and the first hit I ran into on Google for the Donoratico dig was your website. Your blog amuses me... Mummified chickens and Alexander the Great with leprosy in 62 B.C....

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