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Hunters Palette (British Museum)



Hunters Palette

The Hunters Palette or Lion Hunt Palette is a 5,000-year-old cosmetic palette that is among the few objects that feature the earliest Egyptian bas-reliefs from the late predynastic period of Naqada III. The Hunters Palette is decorated on one side only with scenes in low relief showing iconography of lion hunting as well as the hunting of other animals such as birds, desert hares, and gazelles. Three men carry the standards denoting different tribes or provinces, and the other men carry weapons, which include the bow, spear, mace, throw-stick, and a rope used for tethering. Two iconographic conjoined bull-forefronts adorn the upper right alongside a hieroglyphic symbol.

The palette is broken; one of the parts is held by the British Museum. The other part is in the collection of the Louvre. Originating in the late prehistory of Egypt at around 3100 BC, the Hunters Palette is one of the very few cosmetic palettes found. It represents an archaeological artifact, used in predynastic Egypt to grind and apply ingredients for cosmetics. The decorative palettes of the late 4th millennium BCE appeared to have lost their cosmetic function and became commemorative and ornamental objects.

During the fourth millennium BC, early Egyptians of the lower Nile valley used elaborate stone palettes to grind eyeshadow. It is assumed that the eyeshadow was green, made from copper ore and that the ritual played an essential role in their ceremonial or religious customs. The palettes eventually became art objects and treasured objects that were later placed with the deceased in their tombs.


  • Ceremonial palettes have their origins in the evolution of cosmetic pallets into ceremonial and ritualistic objects. This evolution may not have happened if the use of cosmetics was not an essential ritual in ancient Egypt. Cosmetic use and the application of eyeshadow played a vital ritual role in early Egyptian culture and must have been viewed as imbuing special powers. How did their attitudes to the use of cosmetics vary from our practice today?
  • Note the wounded lion with five arrows. At what stage in our history did the lion go from being the king of the hunters to being the hunted.  Was it with the introduction of some of the weapon technology, such as bow and arrow, mace, throwing sticks, and spears,  shown in this sculpture?

Hunters Palette (also known as Lion Hunt Palette)

  • Artifact:         Hunters Palette (also known as Lion Hunt Palette)
  • Date:              3100 BCE
  • Culture:          Naqada III period
  • Find Spot:      El-Amarna, Egypt
  • Materials:       Grey mudstone
  • Dimensions:   66 cm x 26 cm
  • Acquisition:    1888
  • Museum:        The British Museum

A Tour of the British Museum

Ancient Egypt and Sudan Collection

Middle East Collection

Ancient Greece and Rome Collection

Britain, Europe, and Prehistory Collection

Asian Collection

Africa, Oceania and the Americas Collection

The Prints and Drawings Collection

Information on The British Museum


“Experience will show you,
a master can only point the way.”

– Egyptian Proverbs


Photo Credit: 1) British Museum [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons