Canopic jars in the British Museum

Canopic Jars: An Integral Part of the Ancient Egyptian Mummification Process

Painted wooden canopic jars, 27th Dynasty (ca. 700 BCE)
Image © Trustees of the British Museum. British Museum Salt Collection, EA 9562;EA 9563;EA 9564;EA 9565.

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During the mummification process, ancient Egyptian embalmers removed the organs of the body considered most important–the intestines, the liver, the lungs, and the stomach. These organs were then placed inside so-called “canopic jars,” often crafted from terra-cotta or wood.

Traditionally, the lid of each canopic jar bears the head of one of the four Sons of Horus, each believed to protect the jar’s contents.

Falcon (Qebhsenuef):  intestines

Human (Imsety):  liver

Baboon (Hapy):  lungs

Jackal (Duamutef): stomach

The hieroglyphic text on each jar sometimes contains a protective inscription, specifies the respective guardian deity, and may name the deceased person whose organ it contains. Today, canopic jars are found in important museum collections of Egyptian antiquities around the globe.

To read about the ancient Egyptian practice of mummifying animals, click here.

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