Cosmetic palette

Accession Number
Current Location
House of Life (first floor), Body adornment case
Object Type
Implements and utensils, Cosmetic and medical equipment and implements, Palette
Predynastic Period
Naqada II to Naqada III
Stone/minerals (Greywacke)
Egypt, Tarkhan, Grave 1622
Number of Elements
Width (head to tail): 139mm; (side to side): 143mm | Depth: 17mm

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A turtle-shaped stone palette, manufactured from fine-grained greywacke sandstone found in the Wadi Hammamat in Egypt’s Eastern Desert. The animal-shaped (zoomorphic) palettes are from the Naqada II Period, with turtles being one of the more rare shapes and much less common than fish-shaped or bird-shaped palettes. Whilst not unprecedented in its lack of detail, this example is more stylised than other turtles and doesn’t feature eyes, limbs, or a suspension hole. 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 light 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. From grave 1622 at Tarkhan, which was excavated by the British School of Archaeology in Egypt (BSAE) during their 1912–13 season. The grave belonged to a woman, with the palette being located under her jaw. AB103 was excavated in the same grave. The object was gifted to the University of Wales, Aberystwyth by John Bancroft Willans, a subscriber of the British School of Archaeology in Egypt, who received the object in 1913. Subsequently gifted to the Egypt Centre in 1997.


Fischer, Henry G. 1968. Ancient Egyptian representations of turtles. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Papers 13. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Grajetzki, Wolfram 2004. Tarkhan: a cemetery at the time of Egyptian state formation. London: Golden House. Needler, Winifred 1984. Predynastic and archaic Egypt in the Brooklyn Museum: with a reexamination of Henri de Morgan's excavations based on the material in the Brooklyn Museum initially studied by Walter Federn and a special zoological contribution on the ivory-handled knife from Abu Zaidan by C. S. Churcher. Wilbour Monographs 9. Brooklyn: The Brooklyn Museum. [p.319–326 for further information and references] Petrie, W. M. Flinders 1914. Tarkhan II. British School of Archaeology in Egypt and Egyptian Research Account [26] (19th year). London: School of Archaeology in Egypt; Bernard Quaritch. [pl. XXII] Petrie, W. M. Flinders 1921. Corpus of prehistoric pottery and palettes. British School of Archaeology in Egypt and Egyptian Research Account [32] (23rd year). London: British School of Archaeology in Egypt; Constable & Co.; Bernard Quaritch.

Other Identity
1622 (grave number is written in pencil on both sides) | A235 (Aberystwyth number)
Previous Owners
John Bancroft Willans (1881–1957) | University of Wales, Aberystwyth | British School of Archaeology in Egypt
Excavation Details

Excavated in grave 1622 at Tarkhan by the British School of Archaeology in Egypt in 1912–13.

Gift, The University of Wales, Aberystwyth (24 Mar 1997)

Last modified: 16 Jan 2021

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