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Canopic Jars were used by the ancient Egyptian during the rituals of mummification processes. These were used as containers in which to hold the internal organs of the deceased that was going to be mummified.

The ancient Egyptians before mummifying their pharaohs and dead took out the internal soft organs. These organs contained a lot of fluid and could cause the body to putrefy and decompose quickly.

The jars had lids or stoppers that were shaped as the head of one of the minor funerary deities known as the Four Sons of HORUS.

It was the job of these four deities to protect the internal organs of the deceased; the Ancient Egyptians firmly believed that the deceased required his or her organs in order to be reborn in the Afterlife. For use in the afterlife they would be bandaged and vital organs placed individually in Canopic Jars.

The jars were made of several materials such as limestone, calicite or alabaster. The finishing touch would be the stoppers being shaped like human heads, and later as Jackal, Baboon and Falcon heads. These jars were usually grouped in fours and placed alongside the Sarcophagi, and were supposedly guarded by the Sons of Horus.

The baboon-headed Hapy guarded the lungs. The human-headed Imsety was the guardian of the liver. Jackal-headed Duamutef guarded the stomach and upper intestines and falcon-headed Qebehsenuef guarded the lower intestines.
  Canopic jars of the Old Kingdom (about 2686-2181 BC) are almost never inscribed, and have a plain lid. In the Middle Kingdom (about 2025-1700 BC), canopic jars are often inscribed, and the lids are often human headed. In the Nineteenth Dynasty and later each of the four lids takes the form of a different head - falcon, human, jackal and baboon (denoting the four children of Horus).

The four canopic jars that the internal organs were placed in are also buried with the deceased.






Canopic Jars


Imsety the human-headed god looks after the liver.


Hapy the baboon-headed god looks after the lungs.


Duamutef the jackal-headed god looks after the stomach


Qebehsenuef the falcon-headed god looks after the intestines.



Canopic Jars were widely used for the preservation of the Internal Organs. The design went through various phases, starting with four human headed jars. The name Canopic from the town of Canopus, where human headed jars were worshiped as the personification of Osiris.
A later development, and perhaps the best known, was the use of jars with stoppers shaped to represent the Four sons of Horus. The set shown here are of that type.



Although Tutankhamen's canopic jar stoppers were all in the shape of a human head the hieroglyphs on the jars still referred to the four Sons of Horus. Whatever some books may say the face on these stoppers is not Tutankhamen's face - this is one of the reasons why we think that he was buried in a hurry.

In certain burials, such as those of the Pharaohs, the provision for the protection of the internal organs was often more sophisticated. This Canopic Coffin is one of a set found in the tomb of Tutankhamun


.The embalmed organs were placed inside the coffins which were then put into an alabaster canopic chest with the four stoppers carved with the Pharaohs likeness.  


About five hundred years after the death of Tutankhamen the Ancient Egyptians started wrapping up the heart, lungs, liver, intestines and stomach but putting them back into the body before it was wrapped up in its linen bandages. But they still placed dummy canopic jars into the tomb.

Dummy canopic jars: these are canopic jars that were not hollowed out, so never used for the entrails. Common in the Third Intermediate and Late Period, when improved techniques allowed the embalmer to leave the entrails in the body.


In an alternative method the internal organs were placed in a solution of Natron salt and interred in a special Canopic Chest, or returned to the body cavity. In these cases dummy canopic jars may have also been included in the tomb.

In later periods the processes used seem to have decreased in complexity. In the later dynasties a liquid similar to Turpentine was injected up the anus of the deceased. This liquid dissolved the soft internal organs and was then drained.

In cases where the Internal organs were not left in place, or returned after treatment, the body cavity was packed with a filler. This could have been resin soaked linen, straw, mud, or virtually anything else.

Another process was to remove the internal organs, mummify them individually, then return them to the body cavity. In many cases figures of the Sons of Horus were included with the packages. These figures are clearly visible on some Mummy X-Rays

Technology Uncovers the Secret of the Ancient Canopic Jar

 The terracotta canopic jar at the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity has been in the collection of the Institute since at least 1970, but its earlier history and exact provenance are unknown.

From the hieroglyphic inscription running down the jar, it can be dated to the New Kingdom, that is approximately 1400 BC, and was part of the grave assemblage of a man named Puia. The hieroglyphics give Puia the epithet "justified", meaning that he had passed judgment and gained access to the afterlife. The inscription also refers to Qebehsennf, a falcon-headed deity, which indicates that the jar originally had a lid in the shape of a falcon's head and ought to have contained the intestines of the deceased. The jar has been CT scanned at the QEH.

The jar contains linen, the upper layers of which have certainly been disturbed in modern times. CT scans indicated layers of differing density below, which possibly corresponds to resin-soaked linen or even remnants of an internal organ. It also showed some very high density objects, including a possible potsherd. 

Following the CT scanning, the upper layer of linen was removed and a second, darker, resin-soaked layer was exposed as well as dried grass cuttings (possibly part of the original packaging) and fluffy material which may be wool. Below the linen layer was a substance resembling a preserved human organ in appearance. A sample of this was taken and is currently being analysed by the Pathology Department of the QEH, in order to confirm that it is human remains and to determine which organ it is and any other details regarding the physical condition and lifestyle of the individual.

Organic residue and other tests will be carried out on the linen and other organic materials inside the jar with a view to finding out more about the embalming techniques used and the geographical origins of the jar.





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