Preserving King Tut’s Guts: The Canopic Shrine and Jars Introduced

Dr Janice Kamrin talks about the Canopic Shrine and Jars, which are on display in Cairo's Egyptian Museum. Click the image to skip to the video.As we described in our recent handy guide to how to make a mummy, the ancient Egyptians went to great and grizzly lengths to ensure that every last bit of a body was efficiently preserved. The internal organs had to be removed in order to effectively dry out a corpse. They would then be individually wrapped and preserved separately in canopic vessels.

King Tuts guts in keeping with the generally lavish and wondrous spirit of his mummification and burial were given extra-special treatment, as we discover in the first instalment of the new four part video series, Tuts Treasures. Shot by Nico Piazza, and featuring still photography by Sandro Vannini, it examines some of the finest artefacts found by Howard Carter in KV62 in the 1920s.

Prominent Egyptologist and archaeologist Dr Janice Kamrin (who you should watch in this video examining the Lost Tombs of Thebes with Dr Zahi Hawass) introduces interviewer Sharif Shoaier to the spectacular canopic shrine, in its display case in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Within this beautiful artefact, the Boy Kings viscera were elaborately laid to rest.

The Canopic Shrine

The lungs, intestine, stomach and liver needed to be removed in the process of mummification, Dr Kamrin notes, because they contained moisture and it added to the speed of the decay. The canopic shrine which stands almost as tall as a man and is made from solid gold was the outer casing of a nest of special ritual containers for Tutankhamuns regal innards.

Its ornately decorated, with lots of inscriptions and carvings of gods and goddesses (in both human and animal form) including the four sons of Horus Imsety, Duamutef, Hapi and Qebehsenuef, who were essentially the canopic jars personified.

Two deities that Kamrin highlights are matriarchal patron of nature and magic Isis (who handily has her name etched into her head) and Kamrins personal favourite, Serqet, the scorpion goddess (one of our Top Ten Animal Gods and Goddesses).

Among the inscriptions, quite remarkably are tips on how to put the canopic shrine together, IKEA-style. They took this stuff apart then put it back together using assembly instructions, says Kamrin. They really did think of everything, the ancient Egyptians.

The Canopic Chest

Kamrin next leads Shoaier and the camera to the canopic chest, located in an adjacent display case. This brilliant white box and lid both carved from solid blocks of Egyptian alabaster were found placed inside the canopic shrine.

They loved to nest things; its all layers of protection, Kamrin explains. The more you protect everything the better. The four individual viscera were stored in this chest, after they had been wrapped then sealed in beautiful inlaid miniature gold coffinettes (which can be viewed in the Egyptian Museums jewellery room). The canopic chest too is carved with goddesses, and inscribed with spells, which would be spoken by the goddesses, stating that they are protecting the gods which are protecting the viscera themselves.

This beautiful shrine was protecting the entrance to the treasury, Kamrin notes at the end, just after the credits in the video. She then neatly tees-up the forthcoming second instalment of Tuts Treasures. Shall we go look at Anubis? Kamrin asks, referring to the jackal-headed god which Egyptian mythology associated with mummification and the afterlife. A large statue of Anubis guarded Tuts tomb. To be continued… reads the final caption watch this space!

HD Video: Tut’s Treasures (Part 1/4) – The Canopic Shrine

(Read the transcript on the video page)

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