How to make the canopic jars of Ancient Egypt

Updated February 21, 2017

Anyone with knowledge of ceramics and the creation of figureheads from cast moulds can create canopic jars. Canopic jars were used by Egyptians to contain the major organs of a mummified body. The Ancient Egyptians believed that these organs were needed in the after life and needed to be preserved in a manner similar to the body. Most ceramics dealers will have moulds for the Sons of Horus, however if you cannot locate them you can use an Egyptian bust with a headdress, a jackal, a falcon and a baboon.

Take a large lump of clay onto the potter's wheel and begin forming a bowl. You will have to have the wheel rotating and continually wet your hands. Form upward and inward as you go.

You will try to get the form of a jar with a 10 cm (4 inch) diameter base about 15 cm (6 inches) wide at the middle and then reduce it to 7.5 cm (3 inches) before adding the lip. Keep the wheel spinning.

Form the top of the jar by holding your thumb inside the mouth and your index finger below your thumb. Hold your other hand on the opposite side gently pushing in. Before you call it final measure the mouth of the jar and the cap portion that fits into the jar. Remember to account for shrinkage during firing.

Etch the outside with an etching stick. This can be done while the jar is rotating for horizontal lines or stationary to form vertical lines or designs. Common designs on canopic jars are the Four Sons of Horus, including the human form, jackal, baboon and falcon.

Form the head moulds for the jars. This is done by pressing clay into the mould. Seal and band the moulds.

Place all the items in the kiln for glazing. This will remove all the moisture from the jars leaving you a final product for glazing and the final firing. The time will vary per piece and the type of kiln used. When they are finished remove from the kiln.

Apply paraffin wax to the bottom of the jars and lids. Do this to insure the jars will not stick. Glaze the objects. Glazing is the act of sealing the final object.

Place the objects into the kiln for the final firing. The jars and lids can be fired together if they are properly coated with paraffin. In the areas they make contact with each other, you need to brush them with wax.

Reach the final firing time period and then allow the kiln to cool slowly. This process takes as long as 24 hours and will yield your canopic jars.

Things You'll Need

  • Clay for ceramics
  • Potter's wheel
  • Etching stick
  • Molds to form the heads
  • Kiln
  • Paraffin Wax
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About the Author

Philip Powe started writing in 1987 for St. Louis area newspapers. He has since written for "St. Clair County Historical Society Journal" and the "American Association of State and Local Historians Journal." Concentrations are in home and garden, philosophy and history. Powe holds a Master of Arts in intellectual history from Southern Illinois University.