The evolution of guarding body parts.

Egyptian Past is a blog series containing stories related to Egyptian antiquity, focusing on the artefacts in our collection.

The answer is: Qebehsenuef - one of the four sons of Horus.

Father Horus represents the sky, sun and moon and is central deity in ancient Egyptian mythology. His mother Isis conceived him by reassembling scattered body parts of her dead husband Osiris. Not surprisingly Osiris is the god of afterlife and fittingly his four grandsons were employed in guarding the insides of the dead.

The boys Amset, Duamutef, Hapi and Qebehsenuf were born from a lotus flower and were considered solar gods associated with the creation. They were also given an overtime job as the protectors of the four cardinal directions north, south, east and west. Most commonly, however, they are remembered as the protectors of the entrails in tombs. Qebehsenuef, typically depicted as falcon-like creature, was responsible for the west direction and for guarding the intestines. In turn, he was protected by the goddess Serket.

At the beginning, the four brothers were rather discreet. The Old Kingdom’s canopic jars carved in stone or wood with plain lids were placed in a chest and buried with the dead. Later, the lids depicted human heads, possibly representing the deceased person, and subsequently Anubis – the god of dead and embalming.

By the late Eighteenth Dynasty (c. 1570-1293 BC), the four sons became visible; their heads appeared on the lids and the jars were placed in prominent positions around the coffin. Since the Third Intermediate Period (c. 1070–712 BC), jars evolved into dummies - not hollowed out but carved in the distinct forms of the four sons of Horus. It is probable that refined embalming methods allowed the viscera to remain in the body and jars assumed purely symbolic function in tombs.

A large number of the jars were produced in the later period, and many are kept in museums around the world.

Prepared by Natalie Cassaniti and Stan Florek


The three other sons of Horus

Hapi, the baboon-headed god representing the north, guardian of the lungs, was protected by the goddess Nephthys.

Duamutef, the jackal-headed god representing the east, guardian of the stomach, was protected by the goddess Neith.

Imseti (Amset), the human-headed god representing the south, guardian of the liver, was protected by the goddess Isis.

BC (or BCE) – means Before Common Era, and indicates the years counted back from the first year of the Western Calendar. For example, in 30 BC Rome conquered Egypt and Cleopatra took her own life.