Early Dynastic Carved Ceremonial Palette

Cosmetic palettes are one of the most common funerary artefacts found in predynastic tombs. These palettes were used for grinding kohl, the eye cosmetics used since ancient times. The earliest palettes had simple geometric shapes: rectangular or rhomboidal. Later on animal shaped palettes appeared and we can find some beautiful ones in shapes of turtles, fish, birds etc..

From these then, we arrive at the ceremonial palettes by the late predynastic period. Ceremonial palettes are generally much larger than cosmetic palettes and are far more decorated. There are many well-known examples for ceremonial palettes, the most famous being of course Narmer's Palette that has been for so long interpreted as proof for the unification of Egypt.


Ceremonial palettes were usually much larger than cosmetic palettes, therefore they were not likely to be used for grinding cosmetics in a day-to-day setting. Many of these palettes were decorated on both sides which also appears to suggest that they were not used in the ordinary way, where one side would be always against the ground.

The decoration of ceremonial palettes often shows what can be perceived of order triumphing over chaos: the king is sometimes represented in the form of animals such as the bull or the lion and he is shows being victorious over the enemies of Egypt.

The ceremonial palette we are looking at today is actually quite small: its dimension are height: 9 cm (3 9/16 in) and width: 5.5 cm (2 3/16 in.). It is currently exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in Gallery 101. Also, it is only decorated on one side.

The falcon on the palace façade and the coiled serpent underneath it are motifs suggesting its dating to the early first dynasty. No Horus name of the king can be seen in the palace façade as we would later see on other object with this motif. Of what remained from the palette, we can see puppies being suckled by what were probably wild dogs on the two sides of the top of the palette. The circled serpent in the middle of the palette surrounds the grinding space. The rest of the space is filled out with real animals as well as fantasy ones: lions, giraffes, antelopes and long-neck beasts that may have Mesopotamian origins.
Drawing by Simon Sullivan
From Corpus of Egyptian Late Predynastic Palettes
From Corpus of Egyptian Late Predynastic Palettes

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