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 III
Stone/minerals (Greywacke)
Egypt, Tarkhan, Grave 993
Number of Elements
Height: 113mm | Width: 78mm | Depth: 9mm

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A shield-shaped (or scutiform) stone palette, featuring drilled hole in the centre of the top edge (presumably for suspension, either in the dwelling, on one’s person, or possibly as part of ritualistic use), manufactured from fine-grained greywacke sandstone found in the Wadi Hammamat in Egypt’s Eastern Desert. Scutiform palettes were seen between Naqada II and Naqada III Periods. 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. From grave 993 at Tarkhan, which was excavated by the British School of Archaeology in Egypt (BSAE) during the 1912–13 season. This grave belonged to a female, with the palette located directly above her head. AB102 and AB105 were also found in this 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.


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. XXIII] 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
993 (grave number written in pencil on both sides) | A235 (Aberystwyth number)
Previous Owners
British School of Archaeology in Egypt | John Bancroft Willans (1881–1957) | University of Wales, Aberystwyth
Excavation Details

Excavated in grave 993 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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