Canopic Jars

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 11953

You may have heard of pre-planning a funeral, or making arrangements for your burial. Would you like to design your own jars to keep your insides in? Learn how the ancient Egyptians prepared, and why!



learning style
personality style
Lion, Beaver
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5), Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Not to be too morose, but would you want your insides to be preserved in jars when you die? Who are Hapy, Imsety, Duamutef, and Qebehsenuef? Definitely not four of the Seven Dwarfs!

In the previous lesson in our Egyptian Burial series, found in the right-hand sidebar under Related Lessons, you learned about the process of mummification.

The ancient Egyptians were a deeply religious and superstitious culture. They believed that when a person died, the soul temporarily left the body. Eventually, they believed, the soul would return to the body, but it would have to be able to easily identify the body in order to find it and re-enter it. Therefore, the process of mummification was used because it dried the body out, preserving the body for a long period of time. This preservation process kept the appearance of the body intact, enabling the soul to easily return to its host.

The process of mummification was a lengthy process.

  1. Make a list of the steps in the mummification process that you remember.
  2. Then, check out National Geographic Kids' How To Make A Mummy! As you review the process, add to or revise your list of steps to ensure you have the entire mummification process listed.
  3. When you are finished, review your list with your teacher or parent. Then, discuss the following questions:
    • Why were the organs removed from the body?
    • What organs were removed from the body?
    • Where were the organs stored after they were removed from the body?

All the organs were removed from the body except the heart. The ancient Egyptians believed the heart was the organ used to make decisions, and that it would be needed in the afterlife. The organs were removed because it would be difficult to dry the body out with the organs still in place.

The lungs, stomach, intestines, and liver were placed in special jars after they were removed from the body. These jars, known as canopic jars, were buried with the deceased because it was believed they would be needed during the person's rebirth in the afterlife. Each organ was placed in a specific canopic jar. The lid of each jar featured the head of an Egyptian god.

You will read an article by the Museum of Mythology, Ancient Egypt: Canopic Jars, about canopic jars. As you read the article, discuss the following questions with your teacher or parent:

  • What gods were featured on the lids of the canopic jars?
  • Why were these gods a part of the canopic jars?
  • Which organ went into which jar?

When reading the article, you should have learned that the four gods featured were considered to be related to the dead. Therefore, it makes sense that they would be a part of the ancient Egyptian burial process.

To learn about the ancient Egyptian beliefs in the funerary gods — the gods that oversaw the commemoration of the dead — and the role these gods played in the burial process, move on to the Got It? section.

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