Canopic Jar Research

 

 

Canopic jars (sometimes referred to as ‘sepulchral vases’) are stone and ceramic vessels that contain internal organs of thedead which are removed during mummification. The people of the ancient port of Canopus worshipped Osiris (god of the afterlife), and so the term ‘canopic jar’ was chosen by early Egyptologists after the ‘Canopus of Osiris’ image appeared on some Roman coins from the Alexandrian mint. The term now (misleadingly) refers to any jar with a stopper in the form of a human head.

‘The practice of preserving eviscerated organs during mummification is first attested in the burial of Hetepheres,mother of the 4th-Dynasty ruler Khufu (2589-2566 BC), at Giza. Her viscera were stored in a travertine (‘Egyptian Alabaster’) chest divided into four compartments, three of which contained the remains of her organs in natron, while the fourth held a dry organic material.’

(Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., 2008, p. 67)

canopic jar lid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From then on, specific internal organs were each to be guarded by four ‘anthropomorphic genii’ (alsoknown as theSons of Horus) who were themselves protected by guardian deities defending each of the cardinal points. The human-headed Imsety (linked with Isis and the south) protected the liver; the ape-headed Hapy (linked with Nephthys and the north) guarded the lungs; the jackal-headed Duamulef (linked with Neith and the east) cared for the stomach; and the falcon-headed Qebehsenuef (linked with Serket and the west) looked after the intestines.

During the first intermediate period (2181-2055 BC) the lids of the canopic jars were sculpted into the form of human heads (the canopic bundles were sometimes also adorned with human-faced masks).

‘By the late middle kingdom a set of canopic equipment could comprise two chests (a stone-carved outer container and a wooden inner one) holding four jars furnished with stopper in the form of human heads.’

(Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., 2008, p. 68)

This continued into the early 18th Dynasty, as in the case of the canopic equipment of Tutankhamun, however from the later 18th Dynasty onwards the lids of the canopic jars began to take the shape of the heads of each of the four genii. By 19th Dynasty these had completely replaced the original human-headed lids.

In the third intermediate period (1069-747 BC) jar-stored viscera were usually restored to the body, sometimes accompanied by figurines of the corresponding genii, however empty or mock jars were sometimes still included in rich burials.

‘Canopic equipment is found in Ptolemaic tombs but had to be ceased to be used by the Roman period. The last known royal cannopic jars belonged to Apries (589-570 BC), and one of these survived through its reuse as a vessel containing the body of a mummified hawk at Saqqara.’

(Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., 2008, p. 68)

 ‘Cover for Sepulchral vase: Head of Amset, the first genus of the Amenti of Hades. Human head wearing the claft. White calcar[e]ous stone… Finework. From the collection of J. Burton’

‘coated with white stones painted or varnished. Representing a standing male and female tiger looking to the right. Their garments are green, round them are hieroglyphics and above is a horizontal ban of hieroglyphs. The rest is painted with green and red in yellow borders…’

South London Art Gallery and Cuming Mueum. Catalogue of the Egyptian Collection. (No Author or date given)

ORIGINAL SOURCES:

Canopic Jar/Sepulchral Vase

(South London Art Gallery and Cuming Museum, p. 2)

South London Art Gallery and Cuming Mueum. Catalogue of the Egyptian Collection. (No Author or date given)

‘Cover for Sepulchral vase: Head of Amset, the first genius of the Amenti of Hades. Human head wearing the claft. White calcar[e]ous stone 4 to 7/8 high. Finework. From the collection of J. Burton…’

‘The Sepulchral vases with the heads of the Amenti were placed in the tombs with the Sarcophagi, and contained the intestines of the dead. To Amset were dedicated the stomach and large intestines; to Hapi the small intestines; to Smaulf the lungs and heart; and to Kebhnsnof the liver and gall-bladder.’

‘coated with white stones painted or varnished. Representing a standing male and female tiger looking to the right. Their garments are green, round them are hieroglyphics and above is a horizontal ban of hieroglyphs. The rest is painted with green and red in yellow borders…’

Canopic Jars

(Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., 2008, p. 67-68)

Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P. (2008) The British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press.

 

‘Stone and ceramic vessels used for the burial of the viscera removed during mummification. The term ‘canopic’ derives from the misconception that they were connected with the human-headed jars which were worshipped as personifications of the gods Osiris by the inhabitants of the Ancient Egyptian port of Canopus (named after the Homeric character who was Menelaus’ pilot). The ‘Canopus of Osiris’ image appeared on some Roman coins from the #Alexandrian mint, and the name was therefore chosen by early Egyptologists to refer to any jar with a stopper in the form of a human head.

The practice of preserving eviscerated organs during mummification is first attested in the burial of Hetepheres, mother of the 4th-Dynasty ruler Khufu (2589-2566 BC), at Giza. Her viscera were stored in a travertine (‘Egyptian Alabaster’) chest divided into four compartments, three of which contained the remains of her organs in natron, while the fourth held a dry organic material. In later burials, specific elements of the viscera were placed under the protection of four anthropomorphic genii known as the Sons of Horus, who were themselves protected by tutelary deities guarding the four cardinal points. The human-headed Imsety (linked with the Isis and the south) protected the liver; the ape-headed Hapy (linked with Nephthys and the north) cared for the lungs; the jackal-headed Duamulef (linked with Neith and the east) guarded the stomach; and the falcon-headed Qebehsenuef (linked with Serket and the west) looked after the intestines.

During the first intermediate period (2181-2055 BC) the jars began to be provided with stoppers in the form of human heads, and at this time the canopic bundles were sometimes also decorated with human-faced masks. By the late middle kingdom a set of canopic equipment could comprise two chests (a stone-carved outer container and a wooden inner one) holding four jars furnished with stopper in the form of human heads. In the early 18th Dynasty the stoppers were still human-headed, as in the case of the canopic equipment of Tutankhamun, but from the later 18th Dynasty onwards it became more common for the stoppers to take the form of the characteristic heads of each of the four genii, and the by 19th Dynasty these had completely replaced the human-headed type.

In the third intermediate period (1069-747 BC) mummified viscera were usually returned to the body, sometimes accompanied by models of the relevant genii, but empty or dummy canopic jars were occasionally still included in rich burials. Canopic equipment is found in Ptolemaic tombs but had to be ceased to be used by the Roman period. The last known royal cannopic jars belonged to Apries (589-570 BC), and one of these survived through its reuse as a vessel containing the body of a mummified hawk at Saqqara.’

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