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 I to Naqada III
Stone/minerals (Greywacke)
Length: 176mm | Width: 112mm | Depth: 11mm
Number of Elements

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A fragment of a stone palette manufactured from fine-grained greywacke sandstone found in the Wadi Hammamat in Egypt’s Eastern Desert. This fragment could be from a Naqada I Period rhomboid shaped palette, or it could also possibly be from a Naqada II to Naqada III Period shield-shaped (scutiform) palette. The label 'EGYPT/37' 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 in the centre and around the edge of 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 Encylopedia of Egyptology.

Other Identity
Egypt/37 (painted on object) | 303 (round white sticker) | 118 (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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