The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in a Museum

Narmer Palette

Narmer Palette

The Narmer Palette, also known as the Great Hierakonpolis Palette is a significant Egyptian archeological find, dating from about the 31st century BC. It contains some of the earliest hieroglyphic inscriptions ever found.

The tablet is thought by some to depict the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the king Narmer. It provides one of the earliest known depictions of an Egyptian king. The Palette shows many of the ancient conventions of Ancient Egyptian art, which means that this art form must already have been formalized by the time of the Palette’s creation. A leading Egyptologist has referred to the 5,000 year old Narmer Palette as:

“the first historical document in the world”

Narmer Palette serpopard side

The side of the Narmer Palette with the two serpopards

This historical record was probably a ritual or votive object, specifically made for donation to and use in a temple. The Palette, which has survived five millennia in remarkably good condition, was discovered by British archeologists during 1897–98.

Narmer Palette smiting side

The Palette has raised considerable debate, with two camps of view.  One view is that the Palette is a record of actual events, and other view that it is an object designed to establish the mythology of united rule over Upper and Lower Egypt by the king.

It has been suggested that the iconography has more to do with establishing the king as a visual metaphor of the conquering hunter delivering a mortal blow to his enemies. Some experts believe:

“the chief purpose of the piece ………. is to assert that the king dominates the ordered world in the name of the gods and has defeated internal, and especially external, forces of disorder”.

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Essential Facts:

  • Title:                         Narmer Palette or Great Hierakonpolis Palette
  • Year:                         31st century BC (circa)
  • Medium:                  siltstone
  • Discovered:            1897–98
  • Dimensions             c. 64 cm x 42 cm
  • Museum:                 Egyptian Museum, Cairo

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“For the benefit of the flowers, we water the thorns, too.” Egyptian Proverbs

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Photo Credits: 1) By Unknown, perhaps more than one [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 2) See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons