The Authenticity of Crocodile-Shaped Palette Petrie UC15773

Crocodile-shaped Predynastic Palette, Petrie UC15773


I have previously investigated lizard/crocodile shaped palette Manchester 5474, which [spoiler] is extremely likely to be a 19th Century re-carving of a Naqada I style rhomboid-shaped palette. Whilst crocodiles do exist in the Predynastic corpus of zoomorphic imagery, the only other similar palette is the also unprovenanced Petrie UC15773. This palette also has some suspicious features, namely it has red glass eyes which are listed as being modern additions and it is unprovenanced.

With Manchester 5474 being of such dubious authenticity, Petrie UC15773 clearly merited an in-depth study. To that end I visited the UCL’s Object Based Learning lab, who have the palette on loan from the Petrie Museum, to undertake an RTI and microscopy study of the palette.

There were certain research questions I wanted to answer:

  • Does the ‘suspension hole’ look as if it was made with ancient or modern tools?
  • Does the palette surface show ancient or modern tool marks?
  • How were the features carved, are there signs of ancient or modern tools?

Suspension Hole

35x microscopy image of the suspension hole on the verso of Petrie UC15773, showing spiral striations

The suspension hole has been drilled from both sides, using a wide drill bit, which has produced an almost parallel sided hole. Unlike the suspension hole on Manchester 5475 the hole does bear the spiral striations created by flint drills, which are consistent with provenanced palettes.

Surface Marks

RTI image of the verso of Petrie UC15773, showing heavy surface pitting

The scratching on the surface of Petrie UC15773 appears to be consistent with similar marks on provenanced palettes. The palette has small, broken, legs which are also carved using techniques which are seen on provenanced palettes. The grooves used to create the leg features do not protrude deeply into the palette, as is seen on some palettes, but this in itself is not necessarily proof of forgery.

Both the recto and verso surfaces also bear ‘surface pitting’ marks, something which has been linked with use in the Predynastic era. The surface pitting is more abundant on the palette’s verso, which if the palette was re-carved in the modern era may mean that the surface pitting was seen as nothing more than damage causing the re-carver to hide it on the underside.

Feature Marks

Head of Petrie UC15773

The snout of the crocodile has grooves carved into it, presumably to give the impression of teeth. These teeth also look as if they were created with a round tool. However interesting there are 15 of these ‘teeth’ on either side of the snout and every tooth is spaced 1.5mm (almost 1/16th of an inch) from the next. This level of precision is very different to features on provenanced palettes, such as the turtle-shaped palette Petrie UC10886 (from grave B120 at the site of Hu) which does have grooves carved around the perimeter of the head but they are uneven in spacing, count, and even depth.

RTI image of the recto of Petrie UC15773, showing light surface pitting and incised tail grooves

Just as with the teeth, the spacing of the grooves on both the recto and verso of the tail is also suspicious as the grooves are consistently spaced 3.3mm (or almost 1/8th of an inch) apart. The formation if these grooves is also unlike other provenanced palettes, and the grooves have flat bottoms and steep almost vertical walls. This is much more like the marks left by a saw than those left by either flint or other stone abrading tools. The Predynastic craftspeople did have access to saws, although these would be bronze or possibly bone and used with sand to essentially grind through material which would not produce the narrow and precise grooves seen on Petrie UC15773.


20x microscopy image of the red glass inlay of the left eye of Petrie UC15773

The red glass eyes are noted in the object catalogue as being 19th Century additions. The inlays themselves are held in with what appears to be modern adhesive, which supports the claims of their modernity.

Microscopy of the eye sockets shows that they are interesting unequal. The palette’s left eye appears to be formed in the same way as is seen on authentic zoomorphic palettes, the other is shallower and roughly formed. The majority of palettes which feature eyes only have one per side, as if seen in profile, with the exception of turtle palettes which are designed as if seen from above and typically feature two virtually identical eyes. It is therefore very unusual that Petrie UC15773 has oddly sized eyes.


The material of the palette appears to be authentic greywacke, although x-ray florescence (XRF) would ideally need to be performed to confirm that. The legs are also carved in a manner which is similar to provenanced palettes, such as turtle-shaped palettes.

The surface pitting and surface scratching of Petrie UC15773 are consistent with provenanced palettes, the residual toolmarks of the features such as the lines on the tail and the snout are inconsistent with those found on provenanced palettes. This strongly suggests that more modern tools were used. The precision, and imperial measurement spacing, with which these features are laid out implies the hand of a 19th Century draughtsman. These features also appear to have been made by modern tools, and the RTI study has shown that the tail features are carved on top of the surface pitting. As surface pitting is a product of use, and not manufacture, this means that the palette had been used when it was then added to and carved into with the crocodiline features.

Morphologies catalogued in the Predynastic Palette Database

It is of course possible that this re-carving was done in the Predynastic era, perhaps as a form of recycling to re-use the material from a broken palette. However, we do see perfectly re-usable and re-workable pieces of broken palette being discarded and subsequently excavated in settlement rubbish deposits. This would imply that there is sufficient access to greywacke that there was not the need to re-use broken palettes.

With the difference in eye sockets, this may indicate that the original palette had an indented/inlaid eye which was then re-used and a second eye socket crudely added to hold a second glass eye. The suspension hole appears to have been created with authentic tools, so if we assume that the palette’s left eye is also an authentic drilling this may indicate that the palette was originally a zoomorphic palette which has been re-cared. Fish-shaped palettes are the most common type of palette so perhaps this was originally a fish-shaped palette which was re-carved into its current morphology.

The palette is unprovenanced, and likely purchased for the collection from the art market, so it is not unreasonable to think that this may be similar to Manchester 5474 and a 19th Century antiquities dealer altered a commonly seen morphology of palette to create something more exclusive and therefore more expensive. The narrowness of Petrie UC15773 may imply that the original palette was broken, which may be another

This helps to highlight the issues of using unprovenanced palettes in research, especially ones of extremely unique morphologies, and that the unusual and infrequent morphologies should be carefully scrutinised.