Pottery: Transforming Ancient Egypt’s Funerary Practices

Pottery has been an important way of creating materials since for over 16,000 years (Violatti). Many archaeologists find different forms of pottery in their excavations. They use it as a way to date the sites. The reason for many forms of pottery are found in excavations is due to pottery being extremely durable, thus withstanding many environmental changing, in addition to being abundant, allowing many different types of people to acquire the material. The earliest evidence of pottery was found in Japan, dating back to 16,500 – 14,920 years ago (Violatti). In Egypt, pottery has been found to date back to 10,000 years ago. In ancient Egypt, many people used pottery as part of funerary practices, in the form of canopic jars, chamber decorations, and offering trays.

Canopic jars were used by the pharaohs and elite to house the organs of the deceased. The heart is usually put back into the body after being cleaned in order to continue with the soul to the afterlife. The rest of the organs are placed in four different jars, each housing a different organ, with one of the son of Horus being drawn on the front of each jar as a form of protection. Horus was the god of the sky and known as the protector of Egypt by the ancient Egyptians. The organs that were placed in each of the jars included the “lungs, liver, intestines, and stomach that were removed during mummification” (Teeter, 358). These jars accompanied the mummified body in the tomb, which was part of a larger shrine.

Images of canopic jars taken at the Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose, CA 

In addition to canopic jars, tiles made from pottery were used to decorate the walls of the tomb. Large amounts of effort was put into the decorations of the tomb, especially at Deir el Medina, also known as the “Valley of the Kings”, where multiple pharaohs were buried. Many tombs were covered in prayers and spells from the Book of the Dead in order to assist the deceased through the transition of the afterlife. However, others had walls covered in different colored tiles to beautify the tombs. Greens and blues were used to replicate grass and reeds. The tombs were considered the very last resting place for the body of the pharaoh; thus, the tombs were required to be beautiful and have extensive work put into it in order to be an appropriate eternal burial ground for the pharaoh.

Image of ceramic tiles from Tombs of the Pharaoh taken at Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose, CA

Lastly, pottery was used to create offering trays and altars for the gods. In order to assist the pharaoh’s transition into the afterlife offering trays and altars, in addition to spells, were placed in the tombs. Family and those who worked under the pharaoh were able to come and place offering in the tomb in order to please the gods. In the Early Kingdom, the pharaoh was seen as the only link between the people and the gods. In order of the people to please the gods, they had to go through the pharaoh and please him. In order to do this, many placed offerings in the tombs of the pharaoh, including food and various purification liquids.



Images of a offering tray and an altar taken at the Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose, CA

As seen, pottery was an extremely important aspect of the funerary practices of ancient Egypt. In order for many of the practices to have been established, pottery was required. Throughout the time of ancient Egypt, pottery was able to transform. It began with limestone pottery and eventually evolved to ceramic pottery, involving firing the materials at extremely high temperatures in a kiln. The transformation allowed the people to change and add or remove parts of their funerary practices. Through pottery, archeologists today are able to date excavation sites and determine the purpose of various rituals of ancient Egypt.





One thought on “Pottery: Transforming Ancient Egypt’s Funerary Practices

  1. I really like your focus on pottery and ceramics. The offering tray and altar really add to what we’ve studied, since we haven’t talked so much about these ritual objects in class.


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