Back to results

A Predynastic Egyptian jar of ovoid form with finely contoured foot, tubular handles, and everted rim.

Download PDF
: Egyptian
: Nagada 1 / 1st Dynasty / 3500 - 2900 B.C.
: Basalt
: Height: 8 cm

Ex- Kende Galleries at Gimbels, New York, 1940s-50s.


Egyptians were skillful stone makers; perfect shapes and high technical execution mark their products already in the Predynastic and throughout the Old Kingdom periods. Later the harder varieties of stone were no longer used as they were substituted by soft calcite (Egyptian alabaster). This jar with ovoid body, flat base, sharp-edged rim and twin tubular handles was carved from a single piece of basalt. The stone was valued for its hardness and the shining effect obtained by the high polish in sculpture pieces or vases. 


In Ancient Egypt the stone vases were considered as first rate luxury objects: they appear only in the royal tombs as well as in the graves of the elite. The art of vessel carving had already reached its peak as far back as the Old Kingdom: for example, the artisans working under the pharaoh Djoser can be credited with tens of thousands of vessels that were placed in the magazines of the step pyramid of Saqqara – we are referring to 30 – 40,000 vases of various shapes and materials, the majority of which were found broken. The creation of these objects is a frequent subject on Old Kingdom painted murals, but very few ancient workshops with the equipment have been discovered.


Archaeological evidence and special studies on the technique of carving and the employed tools indicate that the carving commenced with the sculpted exterior using dolerite pounders and copper chisels, before piercing the interior with the help of the copper tubular drills and hard stone borer,a stick would forked at one end to hold an abrasive stone. To assure even and centered drilling with the most stability, the rotation was achieved by alternating the drill, from one direction to the other. These different steps were accomplished by placing the vase in a hole in the ground or on a worktable. The final polishing involved rubbing the surface with a hard stone, sand or emery.


These stone vessels were used as containers of cosmetic oils and ointments in daily life; their thick walls helped to keep the substances cool. They also played a prominent role in the religious ceremonies (as offerings in the temples for frequent anointment of statues and other cult objects) and the funerary rituals (for the preparation of the mummies). Therefore, it is not surprising that a significant number of stone vessels were regularly deposited in sanctuaries and funerary settings. Stone vessels served as customary gifts of pharaoh to members of the ruling family, outstanding officials, and other favorites. The pharaoh received such gifts from appropriate persons, it is known that special rituals related to the pharaoh’s celebration and rejuvenation included anointing and special pigment application. On some occasions stone vases were sent abroad as diplomatic gifts. Archaeological finds confirm that the Egyptian stone vases were desirable trade products in the Levant and Crete, where they have been imitated in the local workshops.





ARNOLD D., PISCHIKOVA E., Stone Vessels: Luxury Items with Manifold Implications in Egyptian Art in the Age of Pyramids, New York, 1999, pp. 121-131.

ASTON B.G., Ancient Egyptian Stone Vessels, Materials and Form, Heidelberg, 1994.

BEVAN A., Stone Vessels and Values in the Bronze Age Mediterranean, Cambridge, 2007.

EL-KHOULI A., Egyptian Stone Vessels: Predynastic to Dynasty III, 3 vol., Mainz am Rhein, 1978.

KLEMM R., KLEMM D. D., Stein und Steinbrüche in Alten Ägypten, Berlin, 1993. 

NICHOLSON P. T., SHAW I., Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology, Cambridge, 2000.

PETRIE W.M. F. , QUIBELL J.E., Naqada and Ballas: 1895 , London, 1896, pl. VIII, 34 and 35.

STOCKS D. A., Making Stone Vessels in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, in Antiquity, A Quarterly Review of Archaeology 67, 1993, pp. 596-603.

Related works of art

Black Glazed Pelike Marbled Glass Patella Pyxis Painted Bottle Rhyton in the shape of a seated bull Lamp representing a grotesque mask Kylix with the representation of a horseman Hellenistic silver bowl with gilded acanthus tondo