Turtle palette

Predynastic Period
Naqada I–III, 3850–2960 B.C.


Height x width x thickness: 17.5 x 15 x 0.6 cm (6 7/8 x 5 7/8 x 1/4 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Greywacke; ivory or shell

Not On View


The Ancient World


Cosmetic and medical

This large palette of reywacke is in the form of a turtle with somewhat asymmetrical modeling. Two drilled indentations on the obverse of the turtle’s head indicate its eyes, one of which retains an inlaid eye made of shell or ivory bead. The inlay has a drilled hole for the pupil. A suspension hole has been added to the hindquarters. The tip of the right foreleg has broken off, while the three remaining legs are in good condition. There is no overt indication of use wear. Some edges are slightly chipped, including the front of the head.

Stone palettes are identified particularly with earlier periods of ancient Egyptian history. Non-functional (in the utilitarian sense), often elaborately decorated “ceremonial” examples are known. Often simpler, functional examples were used to grind and mix mineral-based pigments (including ocher, malachite, hematite) that were often mixed with other substances to make cosmetics or other decorative media.


Said to be from Naqada. 1903: purchased for the MFA from Mohamed Mohassib, Luxor, Egypt by Albert M. Lythgoe as part of a group (03.1474-03.1490) for £4. Acquired with funds from the Emily Esther Sears Fund. (Accession Date: January 1, 1903)

Credit Line

Emily Esther Sears Fund