Cosmetic Shell of King Sekhemkhet

This original gold cosmetics container in the shape of a shell or scallop was found in the pyramidal complex of the king Sekhemkhet which was built on the model of his predecessor Djoser.

For the ancient Egyptians, the plant and animal worlds were an inexhaustible source of decorative themes, particularly in the design of small, everyday objects.

Shell of King Sekhemkhet. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 92656
Shell of King Sekhemkhet. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 92656

It is a small container that was reproduced in the form of a seashell. It swings open on a tiny hinge and clasps shut by means of two small exterior hooks. It may have also been used to hang the shell from a chain as a pendant. Its function may have been as a receptacle for cosmetics and pigments.

Oils, ointments, and powders used as cosmetics were kept in elaborate containers of various shapes and materials. This shell was made from pure gold and is one of the most outstanding examples to have survived to the modern day; its simplicity is evidence of the refinement and skill of the ancient Egyptian goldsmiths.

Sekhemkhet’s pyramid is sometimes referred to as the “Buried Pyramid” and was first excavated in 1952 by Egyptian archaeologist Zakaria Goneim. A sealed sarcophagus was discovered beneath the pyramid, but when opened was found to be empty.

Old Kingdom, 3rd Dynasty, ca. 2650 BC. Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 92656

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