Siltstone 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: 208mm | Width: 97mm | Depth: 13mm
Number of Elements

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A rectangular stone palette, with one corner broken and missing, manufactured from fine-grained greywacke sandstone and siltstones found in the Wadi Hammamat in Egypt’s Eastern Desert. 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. The label 'EGYPT/36' indicates that this object was gifted to the museum by the British Museum in 1978. 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 on its recto. 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.


Needler, W. 'Predynastic and Archaic Egypt in The Brooklyn Museum' p 319-326 Stevenson, A. 2009. 'Palettes' UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology

Other Identity
Egypt/36 (painted on the object) | 83 (round white sticker) | 301 (round white sticker)
Previous Owners
Egypt Exploration Society | The British Museum
Gift, Via the British Museum as part of the dispersal of the disposable objects from the excavations of the Egypt Exploration Society (15 Mar 1978)
Last modified: 04 Feb 2021

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