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Canopic jars of Neskhons, wife of Pinedjem II. Made of calcite, with painted wooden heads. Circa 990-969 BC. On display at the British Museum.

Canopic jars were used by the Ancient Egyptians during the mummification process to store and preserve the viscera of their owner for the afterlife. They were commonly either carved from [lime] stone or were made of pottery.[1] These jars were used by Ancient Egyptians from the time of the Old Kingdom up until the time of the Late Period or the Ptolemaic Period, by which time the viscera were simply wrapped and placed with the body.[2] All the viscera were not kept in a single canopic jar, but rather each organ was placed in a jar of its own. The name 'canopic' reflects the mistaken association by early Egyptologists with the Greek legend of Canopus.[3][4]

The jars were four in number, each charged with the safekeeping of particular human organs: the stomach, intestines, lungs, and liver. The design of these changed over time. In the Old Kingdom the jars had plain lids, though by the First Intermediate Period jars with human heads (assumed to represent the dead) began to appear.[5]

This practice continued up until the time of the New Kingdom, though by the late Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt the human heads were replaced by heads associated with the four sons of Horus,[6] who were also the gods of the cardinal compass points.[7] Each god was responsible for protecting a particular organ, and wnet were themselves protected by companion goddesses from harm. They were:

  • Duamutef, the jackal-headed god representing the east, whose jar contained the stomach and was protected by the goddess Neith.
  • Qebehsenuef, the falcon-headed god representing the west, whose jar contained the intestines and was protected by the goddess Selket.
  • Hapi, the baboon-headed god representing the north, whose jar contained the lungs and was protected by the goddess Nephthys.
  • Imseti, the human-headed god representing the south, whose jar contained the liver and was protected by the goddess Isis.
  • [8]

The canopic jars were placed inside a canopic chest and buried in tombs together with the sarcophagus of the dead. It was also done because it was believed the dead person would need their organs to help them through the after life.

The Egyptians considered the heart to be the seat of the soul so it was left inside the body instead of being placed in a canopic jar. The Ancient Egyptians believed that in the afterlife the heart would be weighed against the feather of ma'at (truth) by the god Anubis.[9] If it was too heavy from bad deeds it would be fed to the monster Ammit.

Sometimes the covers of the jars were modeled after (or painted to resemble) the head of Anubis, the god of death/embalming. Copious amounts of the jars were produced, and surviving examples of them can be seen in museums all over the world.

Gallery

See also

  • Hetepheres - oldest known use of Egyptian canopic jars

Notes

  1. ^ Shaw, Ian and Nicholson, Paul. The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. p.59 Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1995. ISBN 0-8109-9096-2
  2. ^ Spencer, Jeffrey. et al. The British Museum Book of Ancient Egypt. p.115 The British Museum Press. ISBN 978-0-7141-1975-5
  3. ^ David, A. Rosalie Handbook to Life in Ancient Egypt Oxford University Press 1999 ISBN:978-019513hi2151 p.152 "canopic+jars"
  4. ^ Shaw, Ian and Nicholson, Paul. The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. p.59 Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1995. ISBN 0-8109-9096-2
  5. ^ Shaw, Ian and Nicholson, Paul. The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. p.59 Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1995. ISBN 0-8109-9096-2
  6. ^ Shaw, Ian and Nicholson, Paul. The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. p.60 Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1995. ISBN 0-8109-9096-2
  7. ^ Murray, Margeret Alice The Splendor that was Egypt Dover Publications 2004 (reprint of much earlier work) ISBN:978-0486431000 p.123 "canopic+jars"
  8. ^ Canopic Jar of Duamutef
  9. ^ Swansea University: W1912 Weighing Of The Heart Scene, accessed October 24, 2008
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Simple English

[[File:|thumb|280px|19th Dynasty canopic jars]] Canopic jars were used to store the internal organs of a mummy in ancient Egypt. The lid had the head of a god or goddess of ancient Egypt. These jars were used to store organs which were removed from a dead person because they were thought to be useless.


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