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Canopic Jars Meaning

 Canopic Meaning

Canopic is a mistaken name given to the canopic jars, but the correct name is viscera jars because the ancient Egyptians used to mummify the deceased and get out the organs during this process then they mummify these organs and put them inside jars which were called viscera or canopic jars.

The name of canopic jars comes from a story which mentioned that there was a Greek sailor called (Canupus), who was saling in the sea suddenly there was a great storm, so he was obliged to rest on the Egyptian shore in the site of Abu Kir in Alexandria (the capital of Egypt during the Graeco-Roman period).

Canopic Jars Meaning

Then the king of Egypt was beaten by a scorpion and the Greek sailor cured him, so the king rewarded him by deifying him. Then, he was worshipped in the form of a jar having a human head like god Osiris who was worshipped in the same form at this site. Therefore, he was called Osiris-Canupus and since that time the scholars started calling any jars having a human head canopic jars.

The development of the canopic chest and jars throughout the history

The first canopic chest to be found is dating back to the 4th dynasty, it belongs to queen Hetepheres the wife of king Senefru the founder of 4th dynasty and the mother of king Cheops the builder of the great pyramid at Giza plateau. The canopic chest was divided into 4 compartments containing the viscera of the deceased which were liver, lungs, stomach and intestines.
While, the first canopic jars to be found belongs to queen Mersankh the third wife of king Chephren the builder of the 2nd pyramid at Giza plateau. During the old kingdom, the stoppers of the canopic jars used to be flat or domed. During the first intermediate period and the middle kingdom, the stoppers of the canopic jars developed and take the shape of the head of the deceased and they even added the details of the body which were the arms and the feet and then they attached it to the jar to imitate the real mummy of the deceased.

mummify these organs
Canopic Jars

By the 18th Dynasty during the New Kingdom, the stoppers continued to take the shape of the head of the deceased. But by the end of the New kingdom especially during the Ramasside period the stoppers started to take the shape of the 4 sons of hours who were Imesty, Hapi, Dwamut-f and Qbhsnw-f, each one of them was responsible for the protection of one of internal organs together with a protective goddess.

The stopper of Imesty takes the shape of human being and he protected the liver together with the protective goddess Isis. The stopper of Hapy takes the shape of baboon and he protected the lungs together with the protective goddess Nephtys. The stopper of Dwamut-f takes the shape of jackal and he protected the stomach together with the protective goddess  Nieth.
The stopper of Qbehsnw-f takes the shape of falcon ad he protected the intestines (Large and small intestines) together with goddess selket.
Imesty→human head→liver→Isis.

Canopic Jars

During the 21st dynasty or 3rd intermediate period with the develop of  the mummification process, the canopic jars became dummy or empty because they used to get out organs from the body and mummified them then they return them back to the body of the deceased. While in  the 22nd dynasty during the reign of king Sheshonq the canopic jars were found dummy and inside them they even placed dummy organs.

So, for the ancient Egyptians the canopic jars became an important tradition even if it was not used. Therefore, the religious belief of the canopic jars covered over their real function. Usually the canopic jars were placed inside the burial chamber or at the foot of the coffins to allow the mummy when the soul comes to easily collect the organs to be easily resurrected.

Canopic Jars

The development of the canopic chest

The first canopic chest which belongs to Queen Hetepheres was found plain not decorated, but sometimes they used to inscribe the names and the titles of the deceased on the canopic chests of the Old Kingdom.

canopic chest

During the middle Kingdom the canopic chests were found decorated with representation of god Anubis (the inventor of mummification, the chief of embalming, and the guardian of the necropolis) standing above the  sign of cloth and the sign of vegetation as god Anubis was related to the mummification process  so we found him upon the viscera chest and he was standing above the sign of cloth which indicates the wrappings and vegetation sign indicating the herbs used during the process of mummification. During the Ptolemic period both the canopic jars and chest were rare to be found.