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Cosmetic palettes, usually of greywacke (silt-stone), have been found in the form of grave-gods in cemeteries from before 4000BC. They are among the commonest artefacts in the Egyptian predynastic tombs. They were used to grind pigments such as malachite or galena, from which eye-paint was made. Early examples, such as the present lot, were most probably used for funerary palettes. The later examples have a ceremonial, commemorative function, becoming objects distinctive of high status.
The earliest palettes are from the Badarian and Amratian periods (Nagada I), and are simple undecorated objects mostly of rectangular or of rhomboidal form. Zoomorphic and scutiform (shield-like) types become more frequently used during the Gerzean period (Nagada II). The animal shapes of the Zoomorphic type represent birds, fish, turtles and mammals and only depict the silhouette of these objects, sometimes with indications of eyes and other isolated body features rendered by incisions or holes. The most frequently depicted shape of the non-zoomorphic examples is shield-like in appearance.