The Quest for Immortality: Treasures of Ancient Egypt

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Canopic chest of Queen Nedjmet Canopic chest of Queen Nedjmet
Late Twentieth Dynasty, c. 1087-1080 BC
gilded and painted wood
The Egyptian Museum, Cairo

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ALAN SHESTACK: The images on this box offer magical protection for the canopic jars containing the mummified internal organs of Nedjmet, the wife of a high priest. Look for a moment at the front end. Here, the deceased is shown at either side. On the left, she makes an offering to the mummified Osiris, Lord of the Underworld. On the right to Anubis, the god in charge of embalming--both key to her survival in the afterlife. The lid is guarded by a three-dimensional image of Anubis in the full form of a jackal. Don't miss how the tail is neatly integrated into the design.

DAVID O'CONNOR: It is Anubis who carries out mummification, and makes it successful. Anubis protects Osiris and the other beings of the netherworld from danger, and so here he serves to repel any dangerous supernatural forces that might try to enter this box and injure the chances of Nedjmet to survive in the afterlife.

AS: Jackals were among the most feared animals in ancient Egypt-- packs would come into villages at night and raid shallow graves.

DO: That's right. But the Egyptians were wonderful at taking threatening forces in the natural world and reinterpreting them in relationship to the world of the divine, so that those threatening forces become positive forces.

So the jackal that threatens the dead becomes Anubis, the god who protects the dead, and the lion who threatens the living becomes the sphinx, who protects the living from danger.

AS: If these essential internal organs were injured, Nedjmet's survival in the afterlife would be in jeopardy. For the Egyptians, the spiritual world did not exist separately from the physical one.