Rectangular palette

Accession Number
Current Location
House of Life (first floor), Predynastic case
Object Type
Implements and utensils, Cosmetic and medical equipment and implements, Palette
Predynastic Period
Naqada III
Stone/minerals (Greywacke)
Length: 129mm | Width: 68mm
Number of Elements

This image may be used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license. For uses not covered under the Creative Commons license, or to license images for commercial uses, please contact the Egypt Centre.


A rectangular stone palette, featuring a zig-zag decoration around the edge of one side, and is manufactured from fine-grained greywacke sandstone and siltstones found in the Wadi Hammamat in Egypt’s Eastern Desert. It was purchased by Wellcome at auction in 1932. The rectangular palettes are typical of the Naqada III Period, superseding the animal-shaped (zoomorphic) palettes of the Naqada II Period, as the Egyptian state began to form and started to restrict control of the raw material and crafts people to work it. Predynastic palettes have long been associated with pigment processing, particularly malachite and ochre. However, a 2020 study of almost 1200 extant palettes by Matt Szafran has shown that only 4.7% feature any pigment staining—this example does not show any pigment traces. Different scholars have differing ideas on what exactly the use of this pigment application could be. Some have suggested a strictly utilitarian use, with application around the eyes acting as a defence against the sun, for medicinal benefit, or even to ward off flies. Others suggest much more ritualistic uses, with the application of pigments having a tegumentary use and essentially acting as a form of mask. Palettes were not a common item and were likely only owned by the elite members of society, something that would support a more ritualistic use over a purely utilitarian one. This palette features moderate surface pitting in the centre of both its recto and verso. Surface pitting is a relatively common feature on palettes, with a 2020 study showing that 31.2% of almost 1200 extant palettes demonstrate surface pitting. It has been suggested that this is an example of use-wear caused by striking the surface of the palette, perhaps to produce a sound as component of ritual use.


See Needler, W. 'Predynastic and Archaic Egypt in The Brooklyn Museum' p 319-326 for further information and references.

Wellcome Number
Other Identity
W1069 (number deleted) | 300 (round white sticker) | H56 (written on the back in black pen)
Glendining and Co.: 29–30 Aug 1932, Lot 145
Auction Details
Two predynastic slate palettes; another of small size; a burnisher; small’'.stone vase; and a wooden vase, all found in Egypt.
Previous Owner
Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853–1936)
Long-term loan, The Wellcome Trust (15 Feb 1971)
Last modified: 13 Dec 2021

Back | Feedback about this object