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The Evolution of Canopic Containers

The idea of including vases in the tombs had existed since the Pre-Dynastic Era, but they were not serving as canopic jars. Rather, some of them were jars used to contain libations, oils and perfumes. In The Old Kingdom, there were canopic chests in some tombs at Saqqara and elsewhere belonging to the Second and Third Dynasties. At some tombs of high officials there were niches cut into the south wall of the burial chamber to preserve the dead body’s viscera. These canopic niches or pits were no longer provided in tombs after the Fourth Dynasty. The viscera were placed instead in separate pieces. The earliest example is the alabaster chest made for the burial of Queen Hetepheres I, mother of King Khufu. This canopic chest had the shape of a square with flat or domed lids, carved from calicite. It was divided into four square compartments, each of which contained a biological mass that almost certainly was part of her internal organs. The canopic chests holding the jars were cut from soft stone, or carved from the tomb’s actual wall or floor. However, from the Sixth Dynasty, granite examples have been discovered in royal tombs sunk into pits in the floor at the southeast foot of the sarcophagus. The viscera remains had been soaked in resin and when solidified, took the shape of a jar. By the First Intermediate period, canopic jars were made with human-headed stoppers, instead of a flat or domed shape. During the Middle Kingdom, canopic jars were made of pottery, wood or stone. The most characteristic feature in the form of the jars was the squareness of the shoulders, a form which does not seem to occur after the Eighteenth Dynasty. The lids were often human-headed, sometimes of wood stuccoed and painted. In the royal tombs, the chests containing the jars were adorned. In occasional tombs, the viscera were wrapped in a bundle enveloped by a mask with a human face. By The Second Intermediate Period, some chests bore a figure of a jackal, representing Anubis, the Egyptian god of embalmment. At this stage, there was a change in the traditional coffins used to bury the dead (particularly royalty) in Egypt. No longer were all coffins rectangular. Rather, they took on the form of the human body. There are also some examples of canopic chests that took the shape of a human body. In the New Kingdom ─particularly in the Eighteenth Dynasty─ the rectangular-shaped canopic chests expanded into shrines, still having a curved roof. It was at this time that canopic jar stoppers carried the symbols of the Four Sons of Hours, each of which usually housed certain visceral organs. However, it should be noted that, along with the rest of Egyptian religion, even the customs related to canopic equipment were altered during the reign of the Heretic King, Akhenaten, during the Eighteenth Dynasty. This became standard practice in the reign of Ramesses II (of the Nineteenth Dynasty). Texts on these objects provide the names and titles of the King, as well as those of Aten. However, the traditional gods and goddesses of burial were omitted. Here, a hawk, the earliest embodiment of the Sun-god, acted as protector at the canopic chest’s corners. But the divine ladies reappear in the equipment of his probable son, Tutankhamun.

The chests made for private individuals were usually of painted wood; those for kings were of calcite. With Tutankhamun’s canopic equipment, the goddesses not only cover the corners of the stone chest, but as gilded wooden statues, they were believed to guard the great gilded wooden shrine that enclosed the canopic chest. The chest itself was a solid block with four cylindrical compartments sealed with lids in the shape of the king’s head (though probably not of Tutankhamun himself). By the Twentieth Dynasty, some changes were made to the canopic jars; they became tall and slender, without the pronounced shoulder. During the Third Intermediate Period ─particularly in the Twenty-First Dynasty─ the viscera were simply wrapped and returned to the body. Canopic jars, however, continued as empty symbols, dummy jars, occasionally even containing carved substitutes for the viscera. During the early part of the Late Period, some burials reveal a short-lived return to the use of canopic jars for visceral storage. However, some confusion of heads between each of the Sons is found, particularly on coffins, although also found on canopic jars. Thus in the Twenty-Second or Twenty-Third Dynasties, Duamutef and Qebehsenuef could swap heads, as could Duamutef and Hapy. Thereafter, canopic jars, which had now been in use for thousands of years, finally came to an end sometime during the Ptolemaic (Greek) Period. The chest that had formerly housed them grew into a heavily adorned, enlarged structure bearing carvings or paintings of the figures formerly dedicated to canopic jar stoppers. Few of these contained viscera. A very few Ptolemaic jars are known, but they appear to have been superseded by small but tall chests resembling shrines. They were brightly painted, decorated with images of the genii, and surmounted by small statues of a squatting hawk. However, even prior to the Roman occupation of Egypt, these too disappeared forever from the funerary practices of the Ancients.

 Amulets in Ancient Egyptian Culture

An amulet is an object that is either worn (usually as jewelry), carried (perhaps as a weapon), or put at a certain place with a ritual significance (such as a specific place within a home, or near a crop field). It was believed that it has magico-religious powers. Examples of such powers would include: the ability to protect against a specific type of danger, the ability to cure disease, or the ability to give preternatural strength to the wearer. Amulets started out in prehistory as found objects that seemed to be of special quality. Examples included animal parts (such as a tooth, an ear, a tail, or a foot) taken from a particular animal thought to have certain desirable traits associated with the purpose of the amulets. They could also be plants, herbs, or a mixture of herbs in a bag, tied or otherwise secured in place on a specific body part. Amulets could also come from the mineral world, as a stone of a particular shape or quality. Meteoric bits which are often magnetic, stones with natural holes in them, geodes, and crystals were all viewed as especially powerful. An amulet was basically a charm, often inscribed with a spell, magic incantation or symbol that protects the wearer against evil or provides aid and magical benefits. Amulets can aid or provide healing, luck or protection or even act as a double or replacement for an organ or limb. There were several Ancient Egyptian words for amulets, most notably ‘Sa’ and ‘Wedjau’, which were associated with protection, well-being, and prosperity. A large variety of amulets were placed on the body and scattered among the wrappings to ensure the safety of the body and any easy passage into the Afterlife.Several of the spells in the Book of the Dead were intended to be spoken over specific amulets, which were then placed in particular places on the body of the deceased. A list of important funerary amulets from Ancient Egypt actually appears in the MacGregor papyrus. Both royal and non-royal individuals included amulets in their mummy bandages. King Tutankhamun had over 140 amulets scattered through his wrappings. The Book of the Dead specifically mentions certain amulets that have magical obligations to the deceased, notably the headrest and Wadj Pillar, which should be included with the mummy. An amulet’s power comes from its shape, material, and color. Green and blue stones, glass or faience signified resurrection and rebirth; hematite was used for amulets providing strength and support; carnelian, jasper, red glass or red faience were used for any amulet that symbolized blood, energy, strength, power and solar force. Although funerary amulets were important throughout Egyptian history, the type and number of amulets used changed over time. However, there were certain amulets that were fairly standard throughout the history of Egypt. Perhaps the best known Ancient Egyptian amulet is the Wedjat (or the ‘Eye of Horus’). This amulet was supposed to represent the eye of god Horus or of god Re and protected the wearer against all evils by taking on the power of the god. Amulets representing the eye are found all over the body, interspersed with the wrappings.

 

  –   Scarabs

The Scarab amulet was one of several amulets dedicated to the Sun God Ra, and was one of the most important of over thirty funerary amulets. The Scarab was a stylized depiction of the dung beetle, which Ancient Egyptians identified with the life-giving powers. The dung beetle was chosen for this honor because after it laid its egg in animal dung and rolled it into a ball, it then pushed the ball into the sun so that the sun’s heat hatched the egg. Thus, the important connection with the life-giving powers of the sun was recognized. In addition, the Scarab was known as the “Protector of the Heart”, so this amulet was placed in the bandages of mummies or in the mummy’s heart cavity while a priest read an appropriate dedication from the Book of the Dead. They were symbolically identified with the heart of the deceased. A winged scarab might also be placed on the breast of the mummy. During life, Egyptians carried the Scarab amulet to protect their hearts and give them long lives.

 

  –   Horus Amulet

Horus was the son of Osiris and Isis. He was the Falcon god and the ‘Living God,’ (the King) on earth. Horus amulet would have offered the wearer protection from the bad god Seth who killed his brother Osiris. Seth was a symbol of villainy, chaos and disorder which Egyptians wanted to avoid.

 

  –   Isis Amulet

Isis was the protective mother goddess and is sometimes shown wearing the hieroglyph (st) or (aset), which means throne or seat adorning her head or the horn and disc headdress of Hathor. Isis is also shown suckling her baby son Horus. She was thought to protect women and children in life as well as death.

 

 

  –   The Knot of Isis (Tyet Symbol

Always made of red stone, the Knot of goddess Isis (also known as the Tyet Symbol) was a stylized representation of the goddess’ genitals. Almost every woman carried this amulet in order to be granted all of Isis’ wisdom and knowledge. When Isis was shown clutching the Papyrus Scepter, the amulet would contain a green stone and served as a fertility charm. This amulet was usually placed on the throat or on the chest in row of gods.

 

 

  –   Hathor Amulet

Like Isis, Hathor is a mother goddess who protected women and children. She was the goddess of the sky who nursed god Horus. Her name means ‘Mansion of Horus.’ The goddess of love and music, Hathor is shown in depiction as a cow, often wearing a headdress of horns bearing the solar disc. Her amulet was usually placed on the chest in the row of gods.

 

 

  –   Nephthys Amulet

Nephthys was the daughter of Geb and Nut, the sister, and helper, of Isis and Osiris and the sister-wife of Seth. She was thought to be a protective goddess who provided protection to the dead in the same way she did with god Horus. Her amulet shows her wearing a headdress of the hieroglyph sign of her name, ‘Nbt-hwt’. This amulet was usually placed on the mummy’s chest or stomach.

 

 

 –   Min Amulet

Min was the god of virility. His amulet shows him wrapped like a mummy with one hand raising a flail over his right shoulder and with two tall feathers on a low crown. This amulet was usually placed on the chest in row of gods.

 

 

  –   The Amulet of Mut

As her name suggests, Mut is a vulture and mother goddess of Thebes. She is usually shown wearing a long brightly colored dress and a vulture head-dress with the White Crown or Double Crown of Egypt. Mut can also appear as a lioness-headed goddess. As an amulet, she is shown as a woman with the vulture as a crown or with the Double Crown of Egypt.

 

 

  –   The Amulet of Sopdu-Hor

God Sopdu-Hor wears a headdress of two falcon feathers and is associated with god Horus. The back pillar of his amulet is inscribed with hieroglyphs that translate ‘Lord of the East’. He was an amalgamation of two hawk gods- Sopdu, the personification of the eastern frontier of Egypt, and Horus.

 

 

  –   Amulet of Ptah

The ancient creator god of Memphis, Ptah, was the patron of craftsmen. He is depicted wrapped like a mummy with skullcap and straight beard with only his hands grasping a Was-scepter to his body. His amulet is surprisingly rare. Ptah Pataikos, on the other hand, was the naked dwarf-god, representing a form of Ptah as craftsman God. Dwarfs are always present among the workers in precious-metal workshops in Old Kingdom scenes.

 

 

  –   Amulet of Nefertum

In the ‘Pyramid Texts’, Nefertum is the god of the lotus called ‘The Lotus Blossom which is at the nose of Re’ and he is also called the ‘Lord of perfumes.’ He was seen as a guardian of Egypt. The sun was believed to have risen from a lotus and Nefertum is linked with the Sun-God. From the New Kingdom, he was worshipped at Memphis as son of Ptah and Sekhmet. In the Delta region he was regarded as the son of the cobra-goddess Wadjyt. In votive statues, he is usually shown in human form, wearing the lotus flower as a crown. Amulets of Nefertum first occured from the Third Intermediate Period.

 

  –   Ra Amulet

Ra is shown as a hawk with a sun-disc on his head (Re-Horakhty) combining Re with Horus. This amulet would sometimes be worn in life as a sign of devotion to the god, and in death would offer the wearer the chance of eternal renewal with the sun each morning. It was usually placed in row of gods on chest, or on throat.

 

 

  –   Thoth Amulet

Sometimes assuming the form of an ibis bird, god Thoth was the god of writing and scribe of the gods. Thoth was the ‘God of the Equilibrium’, ‘Master of the Balance’, ‘The Lord of the Divine Body’, ‘Scribe of the Company of the Gods’, the ‘Voice of Ra’, the ‘Author of Every Work on Every Branch of Knowledge, Both Human and Divine’. He recorded the weight of the heart of the dead person in the Underworld when it is weighed against the Feather of Truth. The amulet of Thoth was a purely-funerary amulet and would only be worn in death. It was usually placed in row of gods on chest, or on stomach.

 

  –   Khnum Amulet

Khnum was a ram-headed god and is closely connected with the rise of the Nile, heralding life-bringing inundation. He is often shown creating mankind on a potter’s wheel. The amulet of Khnum was worn to evoke the powers of creation and it was placed in row of gods on chest, or on the stomach.

 

  –   Sekhmet Amulet

Sekhmet, the lioness goddess, was the fierce goddess of the Memphite area. Her name means ‘She who is powerful’. She was the wife of Ptah, the mother of Nefertum and the daughter of the Sun-god who destroyed his enemies. Sekhmet/Hathor, in the form of a lioness, hurled herself upon the men who had rebelled against Ra. Although she brought plague and pestilence, she was associated with medicine.

 

  –   Bes Amulet

Bes, the god of children, dance and games, is a dwarf-like god with a lion’s mane. He is always shown naked with bandy legs, wearing tall plumes, usually with his hands resting on his hips. In life, the amulet of Bes was thought to ward off evil influences at childbirth. It was also worn in death, especially by women and children.

 

  –   Taweret Amulet

Taweret is the female hippopotamus goddess who is shown pregnant. She was thought to provide protection to women in the precarious occupation of childbirth. The amulet of Taweret was worn in life as well as death. It was usually placed on stomach, feet, or diaphragm.

 

  –   Wedjat, Eye of Horus

Amulets were buried in and around the mummy bandages to provide it with protection against different types of potential dangers after death. The Eye of Horus (or ‘Wedjat Eye’) was a famous amulet which was used as a symbol of protection from evil. Since magic was largely prevalent in Ancient times, healing amulets ─especially the ‘Wedjat Eye’) ─ played an important role in curing people. In Ancient Egyptian legends, it is said that there had been a fight between Seth and Horus because the former had killed the latter’s father, Osiris. In this combat, Seth had damaged Horus’ eyes, but Thoth, the god of wisdom, healed them then used one of the cured eyes to revive Osiris. Based on this account, the eye of Horus became a powerful healing amulet. So important was the eye’s influence over the time: the origin of the Rx abbreviation, that doctors use all over the world, and in all languages, originated from the shape of the eye of Horus. Ancient Egyptians described what we currently known as “medical semiology”, since to them an organized physical examination were central for medical work. They used, as we do, medical maneuvers such as inspection, palpation and auscultation in order to obtain information from the patient’s body. Although they did not conceive our current concepts of disease, they used the concept of syndromes, i.e. a group of signs and symptoms that delineate a recognizable pattern. They also identified some signs as markers of severe physical compromise, such as truisms, neck stiffness, weak pulse, etc. Since they had understood the central role of some organs ─such as the heart and the kidney─ in the mummification process they did not remove these organs which they considered vital for re-incarnation. Because these organs were considered so vital, if they were damaged before mummification or during this procedure, they had to be replaced by a beetle-shaped amulet. Since this object was supposed to replace magically the absent organ, we can consider this as the first attempt “to replace a vital human organ by an artificial device”. One of the most widely worn protective amulets was the Wedjat Eye, the restored eye of Horus. Worn by the living, this amulet often appeared on rings and as an element of necklaces. It was also placed on the body of the deceased during the mummification process to protect the incision through which the internal organs were removed.

 

    Role of Priests, Scribes, Artists, Craftsmen, Artisans, and Other Helpers

The staff known as `Ka-Priests` or `Servants of the Ka-Sprit` of the deceased, varied in number according to the wealth of the donor. After the New Kingdom, these priests were often termed `Water-Pourers`. In the tomb`s entrance, their most common function was to pour water for refreshment of the dead. Ideally, the office of a Ka-Priest was performed by the eldest son and heir of the deceased, echoing the services undertaken by Horus on behalf of his slain father Osiris. This indicates that the cult provided occupations and some financial security for descendants. The funerary cults of the nobility were more extensive, with many priests bound to the cult. The priests preparing the mummy were not the only busy ones during the process of mummification. Although the tomb preparation usually had begun long before the person`s actual death, now (by the death of a person), there was a deadline, and craftsmen, workers, and artists should work quickly. There was much to be placed in the tomb that a dead person would need in the afterlife. Furniture and statuettes were readied; wall paintings of religious or daily scenes prepared; and lists of food or prayers finished. Through a magical process, these models, pictures and lists would become the real thing when needed in the afterlife. The artisans who were engaged meanwhile in all the activities essential to proper burial might number in the hundreds. The construction and decoration of the tomb, if not already completed by the deceased during his lifetime, presented an enormous task. Woodworkers were constructing the coffin –or a series of coffins, each to fit within another– tailored to measure. Artists were busy decorating the coffins. The fine painting on the coffins was rarely done directly on the wood, but rather on a smooth plaster coating of whiting and glue over linen glued to the wood. The beautiful colors on many cases are pigments from minerals found in Egypt, often covered with a clear varnish. Countless other helpers were engaged in constructing and assembling the numerous articles to be deposited with the mummy when it was laid to rest in the tomb. An extremely important task also undertaken during the 70 days of mummification was the preparation by priests or scribes of magical texts to be placed in the tomb. These texts, now known as the `Book of the Dead` were written on papyrus rolls varying in length from a few sheets to many sheets, some rolls approaching a length of one hundred feet. Often they were exquisitely illustrated in color. The chapters forming the Book of the Dead contained information necessary to the deceased in overcoming obstacles on his journey and in gaining admittance to the afterworld. As in a temple, the ritual actions of hymns, prayers and offerings required a priestly staff attached to the cult and containing source of income to fund both personnel and offerings.

 

 

 

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