The cosmetic palettes of middle to late predynastic Egypt are archaeological artefacts, originally used 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.
Notable decorative palettes are:
- The Narmer Palette, thought by some to depict the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the pharaoh Narmer, Egyptian Museum, Cairo
- Libyan Palette, Egyptian Museum, Cairo
- The Dogs Palette, displaying canines, giraffes, and other quadrupeds, Louvre
- The Battlefield Palette, British Museum and Ashmolean Museum
- The Bulls Palette, showing a bull, representing the king, goring his enemies
- The Hunters Palette, British Museum and Louvre
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.
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 ancient Egyptian Predynastic palettes
|Name||Dimensions||Location||Notes + Topic|
Vultures Palette, etc.
50 x 32 cm-(?)
(20 x 13 in)
|British Museum||Side A: war; Side B: peace
('Order vs Chaos')
|Hunters Palette||30.5 x 15 cm
(12 x 6 in)
Great Hierakonpolis Palette
|64 x 42 cm
(25 x 17 in)
|Louvre||Unification of Southern Egypt, Delta Egypt|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ancient Egyptian palettes.|
- 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
- Festschrift, Rëuben R. Hecht, Korén Publishers 1979