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And you thought your mother’s chicken was dry

By TREVOR PYLE

Staff Writer

POULSBO — The chickens hailed from Fred Meyer’s, not the rich banks of the Nile.

Other than that, Breidablik Elementary teacher Brittane Hendricks’ fourth grade class did a decent impersonation of an ancient mummification ceremony last week.

Students rubbed the bird carcasses with salt and cinnamon to enhance the drying process. They removed chickens’ organs and placed them carefully into canopic jars, which were used in ancient Egypt to store the organs of the dead safely to the afterlife. They even separated the heart, which will be weighed against a feather — as Egyptian beliefs say it will in the afterlife — to judge whether these particular chickens were good or evil in their lives. (How one becomes an evil chicken was a question that went unasked, at least on this day.)

“It’s been really fun. We got to play with real chickens and real everything,” said fourth grader Cody Corn.

The project, which will continue into the spring when the buried chickens will be unearthed to see if the mummification process worked, started last year as Hendricks guided her class of third graders through a unit on Africa.

The unit culminated with a section on Egypt. Students learned about the modern country, but also explored the myths, history and culture of the ancient civilization there.

“I found out you could mummify apples, you could mummify chickens,” Hendricks said. “The kids said, ‘We have to do a chicken.’”

It was too late in the year to perform the mummification last year, so the class waited until the 2003-04 school year rolled around to start.

In the meantime, the students learned about the process.

They wrote down the mummification steps, built clay heads for the canopic jars, wrote odes to the chickens that will be buried along with them, and built sarcophagi for the deceased birds.

“We did a lot of writing about the process and math tasks — that was fun,” Adam Helm said.

On Friday, they began drying them out.

“You get to powder. You feel like a chef,” student Katie Cotey said.

After five weeks of drying, once all the moisture has been drawn out, the chickens will be wrapped in linen and buried outside the school. The students are talking about building a pyramid over them.

In the spring, they will be dug up, along with an unmummified chicken that will be buried for comparison purposes.

For now, the chickens are being stored in a cooler in Hendricks’ room.

She told someone by phone, “They’re not stinky yet. But I’ll let you know.”

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