The Libyan Palette

The Libyan palette also known as Tehenu palette is the surviving lower portion of a stone cosmetic palette bearing carved decoration and hieroglyphic writing. It dates from the Naqada III or Protodynastic Period of Egypt (c. 3200 to 3000 BC). It was found at Abydos.

The palette is decorated with intricate carvings and is believed to have been used for grinding and mixing cosmetics or pigments. The palette is named after the Libyan people, who were a group of ancient North African tribes that had interactions with ancient Egypt.

The Libyan Palette 2
The Libyan Palette 2

On one side, there is a scene of walking lines of animals within registers. Below these animals, an orchard with olive trees is depicted, and the hieroglyphic inscription thnw or tjehenw (usually transcribed as tehenu), most likely a toponym of Western Nile Delta or, according to most scholars, what was later associated with Libya.

On the reverse side of the palette we see the square shapes of seven fortresses. Above each is a symbol of a god or goddess, such as a hawk, lioness, and scorpion; all are symbols of power and kingship, and each holds a hoe, performing the foundation ceremony for the town or fortress.

The Libyan Palette. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 27434
The Libyan Palette. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 27434, CG14238

Cosmetic palettes were commonly used in predynastic Egypt. These palettes were flat, often made of stone or other materials, and were used for grinding and mixing cosmetics or pigments. They typically had a shallow depression or well in the center where the cosmetics would be ground with a pestle or spatula.

The designs and decorations on these palettes varied, showcasing intricate carvings and motifs that reflected the artistic styles of the time. These cosmetic palettes held cultural and symbolic significance in ancient Egyptian society and were often buried as grave goods with the deceased.

Predynastic Period, Naqada III, ca. 3200-3000 BC. Schist, 19 x 22 cm. From Abydos. Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 27434