There are a number of different funerary items that can be placed into the tomb with mummies in the hope for a comfortable afterlife, this blog will focus on some of the most important items that would be needed.
Canopic jars contain the mummy’s organs that will be used by the mummy in the afterlife. Now not all organs made it into the jars, the heart was left in the mummy as were the kidneys. The brain was removed, and then it was thrown away.
The Egyptians did not fully understand the brain and its function, believing instead that the heart was where intelligence and emotion came from. This is the reason the Egyptians left the heart within the body.
We don’t know why the kidneys were left behind, some people think that it’s because the kidneys are difficult to find when you only have a small cut to work with.
The organs that did stay: the liver, lungs, intestines and stomach were placed into separate specific jars to be preserved for the mummy to use in the afterlife.
Although there are example of organs being placed in the wrong jar (maybe by an embalmer who was new or someone who was rushed) we will focus on the ‘correct’ placement of organs.
These jars are commonly made from limestone or pottery and were used from the Old Kingdom all the way up until the Ptolemaic period to store the organs. Even during periods when organs were returned to the mummy’s body, empty canopic jars, or models of them, would be placed in the tomb for protection.
In the Old Kingdom the jars had plain lids, but by the Middle Kingdom they had human-headed lids, and in the New Kingdom, by the late 18th early 19th Dynasty, they were shown with the heads of the Four Sons of Horus.
THE FOUR SONS OF HORUS
The Four Sons of Horus are the lids you commonly see when canopic jars are depicted. The baboon, hawk, jackal and human heads each represent one of the sons of Horus.
Their earliest record of them comes in the Old Kingdom where they are mentioned not only as the god’s sons but as part of Horus’ soul. The sons of Horus are the protectors of each organ, but they themselves may also need protection, so each son is protected by a female goddess (this kind of divine teamwork between gods and goddesses is common in Egyptian religion).
The four sons also became associated with the four compass points according to spell 148 in the where they are referred to as ‘the four pillars of Shu’.
Below is a breakdown of which organ was associated with which jar, additionally we have included the goddess who protects the four sons;
is the -headed son of Horus, he protected the , he was associated with the and was protected by .
is theheaded son, he protected the , he was associated with the and was protected by .
has a ‘s head, he protected the , he was associated with the and was protected by
is the -headed son, he protected the , he was associated with the and was protected by who was also known as Selket.
But it is worth noting that the application of this rule is far from consistent!
Once the organs had been placed in their individual jars, they were kept together in a decorated box called a Canopic chest. These chests are usually made of wood or something more precious for people like the Pharaoh, for example Tutankhamun’s jars were made from alabaster (his jars also has the head of the pharaoh himself rather than the animal headed jars we are used to seeing).
Canopic chests had very similar inscriptions to the ones found on the jars themselves. They detailed the good aspects of the deceased and they would also have inscriptions to ensure the four goddesses protected them.
There are examples of Canopic chests as far back as the 2nd Dynasty, however jars were not used to hold the organs and instead the chest was decided into 4 and each section would hold a wrapped organ bundle. When the jars came into use around the 4th Dynasty the chest was then used to hold the jars which contained the organs.
These chests, along with everything else the mummy would need, would be placed in the tomb ready for the afterlife.