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The cosmetic palettes of middle to late predynastic Egypt are archaeological artifacts, originally used to grind and apply ingredients for facial or body cosmetics. The decorative palettes of the late 4th millennium BC appear to have lost this function and became commemorative, ornamental, and possibly ceremonial. They generally were made of softer and workable stone such as slate or mudstone.

Many of the palettes were found at Hierakonpolismarker, a centre of power in pre-dynastic Upper Egypt. After the unification of the country, the palettes ceased to be included in tomb assemblages.

Notable palettes

Notable decorative palettes are:
  • The Narmer Palette, thought by some to depict the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the pharaoh Narmer
  • Libyan Palette
  • The Dogs Palette, displaying canines, giraffes, and other quadrupeds
  • The Battlefield Palette
  • The Bulls Palette, showing a bull, representing the king, goring his enemies
  • The Hunters Palette

Even undecorated palettes were often given pleasing shapes, such as the zoomorphic palettes, which included turtles and, very commonly, fish. The fish zoomorphic palette often had an upper-centrally formed hole, presumably for suspension, and thus display.

The Near East stone palettes are from Canaan, Bactria, and Gandhara.

History of Egyptian palettes

The first stone palettes appear in the predynastic societies of Ancient Egypt. They are the rhomboidal palettes. They did not contain the circular mixing-pool found on later palettes.

List of ancient Egyptian Predynastic palettes

Name Dimensions Location Notes + Topic
Battlefield Palette
Vultures Palette, etc
Full Height?
50 x 32 cm-(?)
(20 x 13 in)

British Museum Side A: war; Side B: peace
('Order vs Chaos')
Bull Palette
Hunters Palette 30.5 x 15 cm
(12 x 6 in)
British Museum
Libyan Palette
Min Palette
Narmer Palette
Great Hierakonpolis Palette
64 x 42 cm
(25 x 17 in)
Louvre Unification of Southern Egypt, Delta Egypt


  • David Wengrow, The Archaeology of Early Egypt: Social Transformations in North East Africa, Cambridge University Press 2006
  • Erik Hornung, Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: the one and the many, Cornell University Press 1982
  1. Festschrift, Rëuben R. Hecht, Korén Publishers 1979

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