Canopic jars were stone and ceramic vessels used for the burial of the viscera removed during mummification. The term, canopic, derives from the misconception that they were connected with the human-headed jars that were worshipped as personifications of the God Osiris by the inhabitants of the ancient Egyptian port of Canopus, named after the Homeric character who was Menelaus’ pilot. The "Canopus of Osiris" image appeared on some Roman coins from the Alexandrian mint and the name was therefore chosen by early Egyptologists to refer to any jar with a stopper in the form of a human head. The practice of preserving eviscerated organs.
During mummification, it is first attested in the burial of Hetepheres, mother of the 4th dynasty ruler, Khufu (2589-2566 BC), at Giza. Her viscera were stored in a travertine (Egyptian alabaster) chest divided into four compartments, three of which contained the remains of her organs in natron while the fourth held a dry organic material. In later burials, specific elements of the viscera were placed under the protection of four anthropomorphic genii known as the sons of Horus who were themselves protected by tutelary deities guarding the four cardinal points. The human-headed Imsety, linked with Isis and the south, protected the liver; the ape-headed Hapy, linked with Nephthys and the North, cared for the lungs; the jackal-headed Duamutef, linked with Neith and the east, guarded the stomach; and the falcon-headed Qebehsenuef, linked with Serket and the west, looked after the intestines.
During the first intermediate period (2181-2055 BC), the jars began to be provided with stoppers in the form of human heads and, at this time, the canopic bundles were sometimes decorated with human-faced masks. By the late Middle Kingdom, a set of canopic equipment could be comprised of two chests, a stone-carved outer container and a wooden inner one holding four jars furnished with stoppers in the form of human heads. In the early 18th Dynasty, the stoppers were still human-headed, as in the case of the canopic equipment of Tutankhamen, but from the later 18th Dynasty onwards, it became more common for the stoppers to take the form of the characteristic heads of each of the four genii and, by the 19th Dynasty, these had completely replaced the human-headed type. In the third intermediate period (1069-747 BC), mummified viscera were usually returned to the body, sometimes accompanied by models of the relevant genii, but empty or dummy canopic jars were occasionally still included in rich burials. Canopic equipment is found in Ptolemaic tombs but had ceased to be used by the Roman period. The last known royal canopic jars belonged to après (589-570 BC) and one of these survived through its reuse as a vessel containing the body of a mummified hawk at Saqqara.
Find authentic ancient Egyptian carnopic jars at Sadigh Gallery website!