Monday, February 27, 2017

Focus On: Canopic Jars

Jars can hold all kinds of good stuff: cookies, jelly, fruit...human internal organs.

In ancient Egypt, important people would be mummified before being put into their tombs. Naturally, they'd need their "ba" to live in the afterlife, or their "ka"might have to wander the earth as a ghost forever. As part of the mummification process, the internal organs would be removed and prepared separately. From a cut in the side of the body, the priests would take out the liver, the lungs, the stomach, and the intestines. After being dried in natron (salt and baking soda), the organs would be placed in specially prepared jars called canopic jars.

The canopic jars would have been placed in a separate chamber of the tomb for the pharaoh's afterlife. Each canopic jar had the head of a different god, considered a protector  of that particular organ. The four gods are considered the Four Sons of Horus. Horus was the god associated with the pharaoh, and was himself a son of Osiris, the god of the underworld.The Sons of Horus are also associated with the four compass directions: North, South, East, and West.

Imsety: The Liver
Imsety is unique among the Four Sons of Horus, and among the canopic jars, as the only one with a human head. Imsety's job was to revive the dead mummy (by magic).

Duamutef: The Stomach
Duamutef is depicted as a jackal-headed god much like Anubis. Duamutef's job is to worship the dead pharaoh in the afterlife.

Hapi: The Lungs
Hapi was a baboon-headed god who was associated with speed, and perhaps the steering of boats.

Qebehsenuef: The Intestines
Qebehsenuef was a falcon or hawk-headed god whose job was to refresh or give water to the dead pharaoh. He was associated with reassembling the dead person, just as Osiris was reassembled after his brother Set chopped him up.

The Process of Mummification

We all know that the Egyptians are most well-known for mummifying their important dead. While it was a little different depending on the time period, with human bodies the process in essentially the same:
  • Wash the body of the dead pharaoh
  • Make an incision of the side of the body
  • Remove the four major internal organs (liver, lungs, stomach, and intestines)
  • The four organs are salted, dried, and placed in canopic jars separately
  • A large hook is shoved up the nose and the brain is mushed up
  • The brain is then drained out the nose
  • The heart is left in the body for Anubis to weigh
  • Natron (salt and baking soda) is stuffed into the body, and around it
  • The body is left for 40 days to completely dry out
  • The salt is changed several times
  • After it is dried, the body is washed of all the natron
  • Resin (tree sap) is poured on the body to seal it
  • Beginning with the fingers and toes, the body is wrapped in linen strips
  • Magic amulets and good luck charms are placed in the wrappings
  • The body is draped in a shroud
  • The body is then placed in a wooden coffin, decorated with symbols
  • The coffin is placed into one or several others, equally ornate
  • Lastly, the coffins are brought across the Nile to the tomb
  • In the tomb, the coffins are lowered into a stone sarcophagus

Hopefully that playdough man will have a happy afterlife!

Now, watch a couple of BrainPop video clips about Ancient Egypt.
Feel free to take the quizzes at the end!!





Engineering an Empire: Egypt

The History Channel has a great series called Engineering an Empire We are watching a portion of the Egypt episode in class, particularly the segments devoted to the building of the pyramids. As we talked about in class, the pyramids developed over time to be what we think of as the Great Pyramids of Giza.

During the period known as the Old Kingdom (2686 - 2181 B.C.E.), the final resting places of the pharaohs changed from simple mastabas, to step pyramids, to smooth-sloped triangular pyramids.

The video is pretty long, so focus on the development of the pyramids and the effort that the Egyptians put into building them. 

Here's a great video animation of the construction of the pyramids. Remember to think about why the Egyptians are building these massive structures!

And be sure to check out this amazing website that describes the filming of the pyramids with drone-based cameras, and that has a 360-degree aerial tour of the site of Giza!

Here's a video presentation by Peter Manuelian of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston all about the Giza pyramids.

Why are the Tombs at Giza Important? (11:35) from Peter Manuelian on Vimeo.

And here's a video that's a little old, but it talks about Egyptian burial practices and has lots of images of mummified bodies:

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Egyptian Deities and Religious Beliefs

Noun: A god or goddess (in a polytheistic religion)

Egyptians, like most ancient civilizations, were polytheistic. The important thing to understand about polytheistic religions is that the gods and goddesses REPRESENT ASPECTS OF NATURE. Keep this in mind when you're trying to understand how these religions developed.

For example, the Egyptians and Greeks both have deities that represent water, storms, the sky, death, an afterlife, love, war, and other concepts from the natural world or from human behavior.

  • God of the Underworld
  • Husband of Isis
  • Killed by his brother, Set
  • Egypt’s first mummy
  • Father of Horus
  • Shown with green skin

  • Queen of the gods
  • Wife of Osiris
  • Goddess of love and beauty
  • Mother of Horus
  • Brought her husband’s pieces to Anubis to be mummified

Anubis looking over a mummy
  • God of the dead
  • Shown with the head of a jackal on a human body
  • God of mummification
  • Weighs the heart of the dead person to see if they deserve a good afterlife

Horus guiding a pharaoh
  • Son of Isis and Osiris
  • Sky god
  • Shown with the head of a falcon
  • Protector of all pharaohs
  • His eye had healing power

Amun Re
Amun Re
  • King of the gods
  • God of the sun
  • Sometimes depicted as a man with a sun-disk on his head
  • Often shown as the sun itself

Thoth taking notes
  • Scribe of the gods
  • Shown with the head of an ibis (a water bird similar to a flamingo)
  • Records the deeds of gods and pharaohs

  • Evil god
  • God of destruction, storms, and darkness
  • Murdered his brother, Osiris
  • Pulled out the eye of Horus when they fought

Hathor in a clump of lotus plants
  • Goddess of fertility (meaning surplus of crops, wealth, children)
  • Shown as a cow, or as a woman, or as a combination of both
  • Goddess of motherhood

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Myth of Isis and Osiris

Summary of the Myth of Isis and Osiris
(taken from

The first son of Geb and Nut, Osiris was tall, slender, and handsome, with jet black hair. When his father, Geb, gave up the reigning power over Egypt and retired into the heavens, Osiris took over the kingship and married his sister, the beautiful Isis. Under his wise authority the Egyptians were persuaded to renounce cannibalism. He taught them farming and the pleasures of music, and he framed a just legal code for them. Egypt flourished peacefully under his rule.

Coffin Panel: Enthroned Osiris and his Entourage
Egyptian, 30 B.C. - 395 A.D.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Then Osiris went off to civilize the rest of the world and brought the same blessings to Europe, the Near East, and the Orient. In his absence Isis reigned as queen of Egypt and the land continued to prosper.

However, Osiris had an ugly and evil brother with red, coarse hair like an donkey's pelt. This was Set, a born plotter who envied the power and attractiveness of his elder brother. Set had another reason for hating Osiris: His own wife, Nephthys, had conceived a child by Osiris — the jackal-headed Anubis. By bribery and cunning Set gained many allies during Osiris' absence, and together they devised a plan for the king's death.

When it was announced that Osiris would return, Set held a banquet and invited his brother. After the festivities Set had a beautiful chest brought forth and said that it would belong to the person who fitted it perfectly. After everyone had tried, Osiris stepped into the chest. Then Set and his toadies slammed the lid shut and sealed the joints with lead. Osiris suffocated, the chest was thrown into the Nile, and Set became king of Egypt.

Click here for a great article about the discovery of the possible TOMB OF OSIRIS in Upper Egypt!
When Isis learned of her husband's death she traveled along the Nile in the deepest grief, searching for the chest containing Osiris. She found Anubis, who had been abandoned by Nephthys, and she nursed and educated him. Isis continued looking for Osiris through repeated discouragements, until one day she learned the chest had sailed to Phoenicia, where a tamarisk tree had enveloped it within its trunk.

Isis went to Phoenicia and found the tree in the king's palace serving as a pillar. Isis taught the court ladies the art of perfumery and hair dressing, and upon meeting the queen Ishtar, she was engaged as a nurse to Ishtar's infant son. At night she performed a magic ritual to make the infant immortal by burning away his mortal parts, but Ishtar interrupted the ceremony and the spell was broken. Then Isis revealed herself as a goddess in all her glory and asked to have the chest in the palace pillar. Awed, Ishtar granted the request, and Isis returned to Egypt with the chest.

Statuette of Osiris
Egyptian, 1075 - 656 B.C.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Aided by Nephthys, Isis revived Osiris through magic and conceived a son by him. And Set then put her in prison, from which she escaped with the help of Anubis. Isis fled to the swamps of the Nile delta and, living like a peasant, she gave birth to Osiris' son, Horus the hawk, born to avenge his father's murder.

In fear of Set, Isis raised Horus in seclusion. The boy was bitten by beasts, stung by a scorpion, and suffered intense pains throughout his childhood, and only his mother's witchcraft managed to save him. Often Osiris would appear to the young Horus to instruct him in the arts of war in preparation for the coming battle with Set. Horus grew to manhood as a valiant, handsome young general.

In time Set learned of Horus' existence and of his destiny to take over the throne of Egypt. Set also learned that Isis possessed the chest containing Osiris' corpse, so at night Set would hunt through the Nile delta in search of the chest. At length he found it and cut Osiris' body into fourteen pieces and threw them into the Nile.

Isis was appalled at this second calamity to befall her husband, but with her customary patience she collected thirteen pieces of Osiris' body from the river. Horus, having learned the art of sorcery, was able to join his father's body together again. However, Osiris' genitals had been eaten by some fish, so Isis was obliged to make a model of them.

By this time Horus had gathered an army with which to attack Set. Under Set's reign Egypt had become parched and infertile, and many of Set's followers were deserting to serve Horus. After restoring his father's body, Horus set out to wreak vengeance on the dreadful king. Set and Horus fought furiously for three days and nights in hand-to-hand combat, and Set was defeated. Horus turned the wretched captive over to his mother Isis and went off to pursue and kill Set's followers.

Set seemed merely pitiable in chains, and using all his powers of persuasion, he talked the forgiving Isis into releasing him. When Horus returned and learned of this, his anger was so great that he chopped off his mother's head. The god Thoth then replaced Isis' head with that of the cow-goddess Hathor and brought her back to life.

Together Horus and Isis pursued Set, and when they met the fighting was even more intense. Set managed to grab Horus' eye and tear it out, but Horus wrested it back and finally drove Set into the Red Sea forever.

Horus and Isis then returned to the temple where Osiris' body lay. Horus embraced the body and fed it his own eye that had been torn out, and Osiris revived as a truly godlike personage. Next Horus prepared a ladder for his father to ascend into heaven. By this means Osiris rose into the sky, with Isis on one side of him and Nephthys on the other. The gods sat in judgment on him, and with Thoth as his advocate Osiris was declared to have lived a pure and truthful life. From there Osiris went to the Seat of Judgment, where he in turn was allowed to judge the souls of the dead.

Horus was recognized by the gods as being Osiris' legitimate son and the rightful heir to the throne of Egypt. Under his dominion Egypt grew fruitful again, and he sired four pure sons from whom the entire line of Egyptian Pharaohs descended.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Groundhog Day!

It is February 2, and that means that folks are looking to the groundhog to see if there will be six more weeks of winter. You can check out the most famous quadrupedal weatherman, Punxatawney Phil, out in western Pennsylvania or any number of imitators around North America (or celebrate Marmot Day in Alaska).

Even National Geographic has a story about the Groundhog Day tradition!

The origins of Groundhog Day date back to the earliest pagan rituals associated with the changing of the seasons. February 2 falls exactly between the first day of winter (the winter solstice) and the first day of spring (the vernal equinox), and so was very important to early astronomers.

In pre-Christian Europe the festivals surrounding Imbolc, the holiday marking the midpoint between winter and spring, often dealt with predicting the weather and checking for signs of spring, looking for hibernating animals to return or not. Later Christians incorporated the holiday of Candlemas to replace the pagan holiday.

The tradition of Groundhog Day may come from a poem about Candlemas:

As the light grows longer
The cold grows stronger
If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
If Candlemas be cloud and rain
Winter will be gone and not come again
A farmer should on Candlemas day
Have half his corn and half his hay
On Candlemas day if thorns hang a drop
You can be sure of a good pea crop

Whatever the origin, Groundhog Day is definitely one of those weird, funny holidays. It was also the subject of a hilarious movie starring Bill Murray.

Here are some Groundhog Day videos:

This year's Groundhog Day prediction from Punxatawney: