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The Narmer Palette: Early Period Ancient Egypt


Narmer Palette (reproduction at the Toronto Museum)

Narmer Palette (reproduction at the Toronto Museum)

Chris Pigeon

The Egyptian dynastic civilization began over 5,000 years ago with the unification of the Upper and Lower Egypt by the legendary King Menes, also called Narmer. Numerous later Egyptian writings claim Narmer as the conqueror of all the societies along the length of the Nile River; but some scholarly doubt persists. During the 1897/1898 field season, British archaeologist J. E. Quibell was excavating the pre-dynastic capital of Hierakonpolis when he found one of the most famous artifacts of the protodynastic period of Egypt, called the Narmer Palette, believed by many to illustrate this historic event.

Description of the Narmer Palette

The Narmer Palette, a shield-shaped slab of gray schist some 64 centimeters (25 inches) long, is in the shape of a cosmetic palette, a type of object made by Egyptians for at least 10 centuries before the date of the Narmer palette. What makes this particular palette of importance is that is larger than most palettes, and it is elaborately carved on both sides with images and words.

In addition to the carvings illustrating Narmer's battles, the images include symbols of a cattle cult, and drawings that are typical of later Egyptian forms of decoration. The Narmer palette may not be a representation of the unification battle of 5,000 years ago; but its extensive decorations will continue to intrigue historians and archaeologists for years to come.


Wengrove, David 2001 Rethinking "cattle cults" in early Egypt: towards a prehistoric perspective on the Narmer Palette. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 11(1):91-104.

Wilkinson, Toby A. H. 2000 What a King Is This: Narmer and the Concept of the Ruler. The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 86:23-32.

This glossary entry is part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

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