Thursday, October 6, 2011

Animals Everlasting: Egyptian Animal Mummies

In 1888, and Egyptian farmer working his field uncovered thousands of mummified cats. Since then Egyptologists have found many, many examples of mummified animals - some buried in mass graves, some tucked away in the splendid tombs of the pharoahs themselves - which have taught us much about the daily lives and beliefs of Egyptians. Many animals were tucked into the tombs of pharoahs as companions - pets in life and in death. Some of the animal mummies were intended as food for the human mummies in the afterlife (cows, ducks, geese, and pigeons). Others symbolized egyptian gods - like bulls - or were considered inherently magical. One example of a magical animal is the crocodile (see the crocodile in the slideshow). Egyptians noticed that they always laid their eggs above the waterline of the Nile before flood season, so they became symbols of the water god of fertility and were very special offerings.

How did the Egyptian priests mummify animals? They snipped out all the internal organs except for the heart (mummies always keep their hearts), and then filled the cavities with natron, a kind of salt, packed in linen bags, to dry out the animal. Then they used palm wine to clean out the internal cavities where the organs were, and frankincense to seal the incision and perfume the corpse. After a drying out period in the hot and dry egyptian air (between 6-12 months), the animal was wrapped in bandages, with magical spells drawn on them to protect the creature on its voyage into the afterlife.

(This discussion ended up being lots of fun because I played egyptian music in the background (I will put the cd in the art closet, by the books on the second shelf), put on a goofy dress-up crown, and then used a beanie baby panda bear to demonstrate the mummification process described above. I will put the cut-open panda, plus his cotton entrails, the little bag of salt, and the wrappings in the closet next to the cd if anyone wants to use it)

Art Activity
materials: school glue & a handful of little bowls, clay, markers, and a 5" strip of rolled gauze or cheesecloth. Put a little bowl of glue (like with only a tablespoon) out for every 4 students to share (or, you could put it on a paper towel, on a tray)

Have the students use a tiny bit of clay to make a very simple animal shape. Truly, the simpler, the better - like, a body (without limbs, really) and a head. (This took us about 10 minutes)

(tip: to connect the body and the head it is useful to show them how to score the connecting ends (rough up the clay) before smushing them together, like this: (i used my nail to scratch the clay)

When they finish their shapes, pass out the gauze strips. They should wrap the animal as tightly as they can, stretching the gauze so it gets really thin. Then they can use their finger to get a tiny bit of glue, and rub it on the end of the wrapping, and on any parts of the gauze that stick out to smooth it down. (This was the most difficult part of the project - it takes a little bit of patience and smoothing to get the bandages flat).

When the glue dries (if they don't use so much, it should only take a few minutes), they can use their markers to decorate the wrapping with designs, etc. It would also be cool to use gold paint if you have time.

1 comment:

  1. I like your little mummies. I taught my 6th graders how to make animal mummies too!