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A god for guts
  1. J Walker-Smith
  1. The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL, University College London, 24 Eversholt St, London NW1 1AD, UK;

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While attending the 15th National Conference on Advances in Perinatal and Paediatric Nutrition at the University of Stanford, California, July 2001, at an evening social event at the Cantor Center for Visual Arts, I chanced upon the small but remarkable collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts from the Stanford Family Collection.


In the University of Stanford collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts are two alabaster canopic jars dating from the 18th dynasty (1539–1295 BC) at the time of the New Kingdom. One had a head stopper shaped like a falcon (fig 1) representing Kebeh-senu-ef, one of the four sons of Horus acting as a guardian god of the embalmed guts of the deceased. A very similar name is given at the British Museum for the same god, namely Qebhsenuef. These four sons of Horus were the genii who guarded the north, south, east, and west. Remarkably, the ancient Maya of central America also had four deities upholding heaven at the four points of the compass. The Maya also used funerary jars called after these gods.

Figure 1

Alabaster canopic jar: Egypt 18th dynasty (1539–1295 BC). The falcon head stopper represents Kebeh-senu-ef, son of Horus, guardian of the embalmed intestines (photographed by the author at University of Stanford, Cantor Center for Visual Arts).

Nunn,1 in his remarkable account of ancient Egyptian medicine, states that the embalmers showed great technical expertise …

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