Nigeria: Global Studies Units and Lesson Plans from the World Affairs Council

Fish Mummy Overview

Foundations of American Government

Social Justice Unit

In this activity, students learn hands-on the steps involved in mummification. This science lesson complements students’ studies of Ancient Egypt in Social Studies class. This activity was adapted from the Exploratorium’s “Make a Mummy” activity. (


  1. Students will perform and understand the main steps in the mummification process
  2. Students will make and record qualitative and quantitative observations
General Steps of Mummification

  1. Inner organs are removed and placed in canopic jars (intestines, stomach, liver, “lungs”)
  2. Body cavity is stuffed with natron (drying salt). Salt is also packed around the body.
  3. Body is left to dry for 40 days.
  4. Then body is cleaned and rubbed with fragrant oils and spices.
  5. Finally, the body is wrapped in strips of linen dipped in resin.

?Time Required

  • (prep) 15 - 20 minutes set up each week plus time to initially get fish & supplies
  • Week 0 - introduce and plan with students (15-20 minutes)
  • Week 1 - dissection and initial mummification (45 - 50 minutes)
  • Week 2 - change “natron” / observations (15 - 20 minutes)
  • Week 3 - change “natron” / observations (15 - 20 minutes)
  • Week 4 - observations / wrapping (45 - 50 minutes)
  • Week 5 - (optional) Burial ceremony (45 - 50 minutes)


  • Copies of worksheets
    • (one per student) Mummification Background, Fish Packet
    • (one per group) Fish Mummy Plan Sheet, Weekly Procedure Sheet
  • One medium sized [fresh] fish [with guts] per group (Check with local restaurant suppliers. Sea bass, perch or tilapia work well.) Any fish that comfortably fits in a...
  • One container per group (Gladware size Large works well)
  • Four film canisters or other small jars to serve as canopic jars
  • Baking soda and table salt (enough to fill each group's containers each week)
  • Big bowls (for mixing natron, and later resin)
  • Dissection scissors (necessary), blunt probe, and forceps (optional)
  • Scale and rulers (HINT: cover the scale with plastic wrap to easier clean-up)
  • Herbs (from grocery store or garden) and “fragrant oils” (I purchased mine from a discount beauty supply store, Baby Oil is a good alternative if allergies are a concern)
  • Muslin cloth to tear into strips (available at any fabric store)
  • Elmer's glue for "resin"
  • Trash bags, air fresheners… this activity is fun and educational, but SMELLY. (Week 2 is best done outside, if possible)
  • Gloves (optional - my kids do not wear gloves except in cases of open cuts. All materials are food grade and safe to touch.)

SAFETY NOTE: Check if any student has a tactile allergy to fish!


1. Week 0 (pre-fish planning)

  • Read “Mummification Background Sheet” and discuss
  • Students will be assigned / chose groups and complete “Fish Mummy Plan Sheet”
  • "canopic jar kids" will need their jars in order to complete the them by Week 1.

2. Week One: Canopic Jars and initial drying

  • Students will dissect fish and place appropriate organs into corresponding canopic jars. (I recommend emptying those canopic jars after class, unless you want to preserve them separately or want a smelly mess. To preserve, follow the fish mummification procedure on a smaller scale) NOTE: Make sure to discuss lungs vs. gills.
  • Students will mass the fish WITHOUT ITS ORGANS and record data / additional observations in “Fish Packet”
  • Students will pack the now-empties gut cavity of the fish with fresh “natron” mixture (2/3 baking soda, 1/3 table salt) [referred to from now on as natron]
  • Students will line disposable container with 1 -2 inches of natron, then place fish in it, then adding more natron until the fish is completely covered.
  • Fish should be stored for one week to allow dehydration.

3. Week Two: Repacking the fish

  • Students will open up their containers and remove all used natron from inside and outside the fish. (WARNING: This can be SMELLY - unpack the fish outside if space and weather permit) Students should notice that it is the moist baking soda that smells bad… and not so much the fish.
  • Students will repeat steps 2-5 in Week One’s procedure

4. Week Three: Repacking the fish

  • Students will repeat the procedure from Week Two.

5. Week Four: Wrapping the fish

  • Students will remove all unused natron, saving the container for their wrapped fish..
  • Students will mass the fish and record data / additional observations in “Fish Packet”
  • Students will dip 1 - 2 strips of muslin (“linen”) in oil, fold them up, and put them inside the fish's body cavity.
  • Students will rub the fish with scented oils and apply herbs to simulate the burial practices of Ancient Egyptians (the oils were a burial ritual, but also served to cover up any residual odors)
  • Students will then dip strips of muslin (“linen”) in a mixture of Elmer’s glue & water (“resin”) and wrap the fish mummy, taking care not to get the fish too damp.
  • Set fish aside to dry. (In the meantime, if students will be doing a ceremony, they should be creating amulets and the sarcophagus)

6. Week Five: Burial Ceremony (optional)

  • You can be as elaborate or as simple as you choose. (I downloaded some funeral music, and the kids really got into it, composing songs for their fish, dramatically sobbing during their ceremonies…)
  • Students can have the option to take the fish home and bury it. (I’ve had kids dig them up a year later, and they were still intact and “not smelly”)

Students will maintain a packet with weekly qualitative / quantitative observations as well as a reflection of their contributions to the group. Students may also graph the mass data at the end of the activity. Additional quizzes or discussion may be utilized.
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