Cosmetic palette

The cosmetic palettes are archaeological artifacts, originally used in predynastic Egypt to grind and apply ingredients for facial or body cosmetics. The decorative palettes of the late 4th millennium BCE appear to have lost this function and became commemorative, ornamental, and possibly ceremonial. They were made almost exclusively out of siltstone with a few exceptions. The siltstone originated from quarries in the Wadi Hammamat.

Many of the palettes were found at Hierakonpolis, a centre of power in pre-dynastic Upper Egypt. After the unification of the country, the palettes ceased to be included in tomb assemblages.

Notable palettes

Notable decorative palettes are:

Even undecorated palettes were often given pleasing shapes, such as the zoomorphic palettes, which included turtles and, very commonly, fish. The fish zoomorphic palette often had an upper-centrally formed hole, presumably for suspension, and thus display.

The Near East stone palettes are from Canaan,[2] Bactria, and Gandhara.

History of Egyptian palettes

Siltstone was first utilized for cosmetic palettes by the Badarian culture. The first palettes used in the Badarian Period and in Naqada I were usually plain, rhomboidal or rectangular in shape, without any further decoration. It is in the Naqada II period in which the zoomorphic palette is most common. On these examples there is more focus on symbolism and display, rather than a purely functional object for grinding pigments. The importance of symbolism eventually outweighs the functional aspect with the more elite examples found in the Naqada III period, but there is also a reversion to non-zoomorphic designs among non-elite individuals.

List of famous ancient Egyptian Predynastic palettes

Name Image Dimensions Location Notes + Topic
Battlefield Palette
"Vultures Palette", etc.
Full Height?
50 x 32 cm-(?)
(20 x 13 in)
British Museum Side A: war; Side B: peace
('Order vs Chaos')
Bull Palette 26.5 x 14.5 cm Louvre
Hunters Palette 30.5 x 15 cm
(12 x 6 in)
British Museum
Louvre Museum
Only one side is sculpted, the palette is broken in four fragments, one of which is lost. The top-right fragment is on display at the Louvre, accession number E 11254
Libyan Palette Egyptian Museum, Cairo
Min Palette British Museum
Narmer Palette
"Great Hierakonpolis Palette"
64 x 42 cm
(25 x 17 in)
Egyptian Museum, Cairo Narmer's victory over Lower Egypt
"Two Dogs Palette" Ashmolean Museum
"Four Dogs Palette" 32.0 × 17.7 cm Louvre Museum

Other palettes

See also


  • David Wengrow, The Archaeology of Early Egypt: Social Transformations in North East Africa, Cambridge University Press 2006
  • Erik Hornung, Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: the one and the many, Cornell University Press 1982
  1. Baines, J. (1993). Symbolic roles of canine figures on early monuments. Archéo-Nil: Revue de la société pour l'étude des cultures prépharaoniques de la vallée du Nil, 3, 57-74.
  2. Festschrift, Rëuben R. Hecht, Korén Publishers 1979
  3. Miroschedji, Pierre de. Une palette égyptienne prédynastique du sud de la plaine côtière d'Israël.
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