Canopic chests are cases used by Ancient Egyptians to contain the internal organs removed during the process of mummification. Once canopic jars began to be used, in the late Fourth Dynasty, the jars were placed within canopic chests. Although the first proven canopic burials date from the Fourth Dynasty reign of Sneferu, there is evidence to suggest that there were canopic installations at Saqqara dating from the Second Dynasty.
Connections to Ancient Egyptian culture
Canopic chests had an important place in Egyptian culture. Canopic chests contained the internal organs (viscera) of mummies, so they relate to the Egyptian belief that the afterlife is just as important as life on earth. Egyptians believed that everything had to be perfectly preserved to journey into the land after life and as part of the mummification process they removed viscera from the body.
Changes through history
The first canopic chests were simple and wooden, but as time went on they became more elaborate. Then, around the 21st Dynasty (1069-945 BCE) the Egyptians decided to leave the viscera inside mummies. But because they had been using canopic chests for thousands of years they kept putting them in tombs, just without anything in them. Canopic chests fell out of use during the Ptolemaic period.
Style and materials
The style and materials were different at different times, though always reflected the Egyptian ideal of perfectly measured and precise beauty.
The tall wooden shrine-like chests had bright painting on their sides and a falcon crouching on top. Craftsmen coated the wood with gesso to prepare it for the pigment they then painted it with. All the decoration tells us something about Egyptian religion. The falcon on top represents Sokar, a funerary god and picture on the sides show the chest’s owner worshiping Osiris, god of the afterlife; Ra-Horakhty, a combination of the gods Horus and Ra; four sons of Horus, each of whom guards one of the viscera traditional removed during mummification; the dyed pillar, which represents Osiris, and the tyet, which represents Isis. The painting is not as perfectly measured and precise as earlier Egyptian art, because Egyptian civilization was decaying when it was made.
- Dodson, Aidan, "Canopic Jars and Chests", in Redford, Donald B. (ed) (2001). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, vol. II, Oxford University Press. pp. 231–235
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