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What are Canopic Jars? - A Super-Simple Easy Peasy Guide

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

A replica Canopic Jar - Courtesy of Joanna Hill

Canopic Jars are not your regular type of jar. They were not used to store sugar, pasta, or multi-coloured beads for your latest arts and crafts project. Instead, Ancient Egyptians used canopic jars to store dead people’s viscera during the process of mummification.

Viscera is a fancy word used to describe all the gloopy slimy organs lurking inside your body. To be more specific, canopic jars were used to preserve and protect the lungs, stomach, intestines, and liver. The Ancient Egyptians believed that these organs would need to be kept safe, as their owner would definitely want them back once their spirit made its way to the afterlife.

There were four canopic jars, one to store each type of organ. Back in really really really ancient Ancient Egypt (called the Old Kingdom) the jars were plain and kind of boring. However, by the time the New Kingdom came about, Canopic Jars were colourful and very decorative. Each jar had an Egyptian god carved into the lid, a bit like a miniature statue. Or maybe the head of an action figure, that kind of thing. Anyway, these four gods were referred to as the Four Sons of Horus.

But which gods are they and which jar would you find them perched upon? Let’s have a looksee.

Name: Hapi

What does his head look like: A great big baboon.

Which organ does he protect? The lungs

Fun Fact: Along with his lung protecting, Hapi was also considered to represent the direction of ‘North’.

Name: Duamutef

What does his head look like:

An awesomely scary Jackal.

Which organ does he protect?

The stomach.

Fun Fact:

Duamutef was born from a lily flower.

Name: Imsety

What does his head look like: A regular human – BORING!

Which organ does he protect? The liver.

Fun Fact: The Egyptians considered the liver to be where all of our emotions come from, which is why Imsety had a human head – he was the most human of all the gods.

Name: Qubehsenuef

What does his head look like: A fearsome falcon.

Which organ does he protect? The intestines.

Fun fact: Qubehsenuef is very difficult to spell. Also, the intestines of animals were used by Egyptian soothsayers to see the future.

There you have it! Our super-simple guide to the Canopic Jars is done and dusted!

If you'd like to craft your own Egyptian Canopic jars, just like the ones featured in this article, check out the instructions here.

Above, you can spot our replica Canopic Jar alongside the other Egyptian replica artefacts we feature as part of our Ancient Egypt: A Time Travel Tour workshop for Primary School children. Our interactive school workshops use drama activities, roleplay and storytelling to bring history to life for your students. Invite us to your school by enquiring here!


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