Ancient Egyptian Canopic Jars

Canopic jars were used by the Ancient Egyptians to help hold organs and remains from the dead bodies.  During mummification, the bodies had to have the organs removed.

These organs were important to go with the body because the body needed things to be exactly like they were on Earth when they enter into the afterlife.

The organs were sometimes put back in the body, but sometimes, they were put in canopic jars.

These jars helped to preserve the body parts separately and they often included the intestines, the stomach, lungs, and the liver.

Canopic jars were very interesting, and they oftentimes had a lid that was shaped as a human head or of an animal head.

The jars were decorated with heads of the four sons of Horus and they were thought to protect the organs.  The Imsety, was the protector of the liver.  This jar had the shape of a human head.

The Qebehsenuf helped to guard the intestines.  This jar had the head of a falcon.  The Happy protected the lungs and was shaped like a baboon head.  The Daumatef helped to guard the stomach and it had the head of a jackal.

When the body was finished being mummified and the tomb was ready to be closed, the jars would be placed inside the tomb and these jars would travel with the dead to the afterlife, protecting the dead’s organs which were prepared to enter their paradise.

The jars were most of the time carved by some type of pottery or limestone and they were made to hold only one organ at a time.

All of the organs were separated and placed in their own jar, and the jars were not written on, but they were known because of the shape of the head.

These jars came only in fours and the jars held the stomach, intestines, lungs and liver because these were the organs that were thought to be needed in the afterlife.

The heart remained inside the body, so no jar for the heart was needed, and the Egyptians believed that the heart was the soul of the body and so it always was left there.

The jars were oftentimes placed inside of a chest called a canopic chest and these were buried in the sarcophagus of the dead.

They were sometimes put in the corners of the chambers and not buried in the coffin, but this changed throughout the periods of time.

Sometimes the organs were wrapped and left inside the body and when this happened, there were sometimes jars that were not hollowed out that were left inside the tomb for protection from evil.

Facts about canopic jars:

  • Hapy, who took care of the lungs, was the god that represented the north.
  • Duamutef, who protected the stomach, was the god that represented the east.
  • Imsety, the god who protected the liver, was the god that represented the south.
  • Qebehsenuef, that protected the intestines, was the god representing the west.
  • The jars were decorated so that the gods would look after the body.
  • The Egyptians did not think the brain was important and did not preserve this at all.
  • The organs were wrapped and covered in oil before they were placed in the jars.
  • The organs were meant to last for all of eternity.

Q and A

  • Q: What was the purpose of the canopic jars?
    A: The canopic jars were used to help preserve the organs for the afterlife.
  • Q: How many gods were represented in the canopic jars?
    A: Four gods, Hapy, Duamutef, Imsety and Qebehsenuef.
  • Q: Why did some of the jars have heads like humans and heads like animals?
    A: Animal heads oftentimes represented different gods and these jars represented different gods.
  • Q: Where was the brain stored?
    A: The Egyptians did not believe the brain was important and they did not preserve the brain at all.
  • Q: Where were the jars placed?
    A: The jars were placed inside of the coffin or inside the tomb in the corners.
  • Q: How long were the organs meant to last?
    A: They were meant to last through all eternity, even into the afterlife.