Canopic Jars

Oh, the weather outside is frightful. So let’s stay inside and talk about Dead People Jars! This week on Godslave, we saw a canopic jar eat it at the hands of gravity and age and maybe magic. On Library Friday, let’s take a look at what real canopic jars are all about!

Before I found the ROM library, my main book-learnin’ go to was the Reference Library!
What it lacks in concentrated Egyptian information, it makes up for in a few ways:

It’s open before 1 PM (and every day!)
You can bring your tea in!

Also, it’s catalogued! The ROM has no cataloging system as far as I’m aware, which leaves you on your own to hunt. At the reference library, like a regular library, it’s easy-peasy to just type in basic key words on their computers and find what you’re looking for.

And today, looking for Dead People Jars, I found 9 books.
Only about 5 were helpful, but here’s what I managed to find.

Since pre-dynastic periods, Egyptians have loved taking stuff with them when they die.

Early tombs were found things like food or possessions buried with the deceased. As time went on, it got increasingly more elaborate. Food, toys, jewelry, even the pets! Canopic jars, starting in the Old Kingdom, were made for very specific contents though. After you died, your body went through the very detail-intensive process of being mummified. Crucial to the process, the entirety of your abdomen needed to be emptied out and salted. Your organs were removed and preserved for burial along with the rest of your stuff!


Your intestines, lungs, stomach and liver all got to come with you. No brain though, sorry.

Most of the time when books refer to Canopic jars, they have these guys hanging around!


The Four Sons of Horus! Although they’ve become iconic with Dead People jars, they weren’t introduced until the Rammeside Period! It’s not clear how it started. Originally they were simple lids, then in Middle Kingdom became human-headed lids. More than likely, the idea of putting the gods’ faces and names on stuff as protection became more and more commonplace. Each son was to watch over the organ, and a goddess to protect them.

Imsety, the man, was protected under the goddess Isis, and contained the liver

Ha-py, the baboon, was protected under the goddess Nephthys, and containued the lungs.

Duamutef, the jackal, was protected under Neith, and contained the stomach

and Qebehsenuf under Selkis/Serqet, held the intestines

Jars were usually made out of alabaster, but have also been made of limestone, pottery or fience.

They contained the deceased’s organs up until the 21st Dynasty. After that, organs would be removed from the deceased, wrapped in linen with a wax doll of the corresponding Son, then put back in to the body before it was to be wrapped up. Jars, having become such a routine part of the funerary ritual, still accompanied the coffin. But they would be solid, ‘dummy’ jars.


That’s it for this week! See you next Friday!