She inherited the old stone jar from an aunt and didn’t know what else to do with it, so she put it in the yard as a garden ornament. After 20 years, however, she decided to clean it up and have it appraised.

It turns out that the unidentified woman, from the English town of Dorset, had been decorating her garden with a 3,000-year-old relic, a ceremonial container designed to hold a deceased Egyptian’s liver.

When Egyptians of sufficient means were mummified, ancient undertakers would remove various internal organs and pack them in natron to dry them out. When dry, the organs would be put into one of four canopic jars, which would be stored in a chest near the mummified body. Typically, each jar was topped by the image of an Egyptian god with a flair for protecting the particular organs inside.

The English woman’s jar, which was dated between 1150 and 1069 B.C., has the image of human-faced Imseti on top, suggesting that it was designed to hold someone’s liver. The woman seemed relieved that she’d kept it in the garden rather than the kitchen: “It’s not the sort of thing you want to keep flour in.”

If you’re in the market for a liver jar, it goes on sale Feb. 5 at Duke’s auction house in Dorchester.

[Story and photo from]

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