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Alabastron


Artist: Unknown Egyptian Artist Primary
Date: 664-525 BCE
Dimensions: 7.38 x 2.31 in. (18.73 x 5.87 cm)
Object Type: Vessels
Creation Place: Middle East, Egypt
Medium and Support: Arragonite
Credit Line: Lent by the Yale University Art Gallery, Anonymous Gift
Accession Number: L2020.05.06
On View: Bellarmine Hall Galleries


This vessel is made out of a material known as aragonite, which most likely derives from seashells or white coral, giving it an off-white color marked by horizontal rings around the entire body of the piece. It is cylindrical in shape, with a wide, flat rim and a narrow neck, smooth polished sides and a rounded bottom. Towards the top of the vessel, there are what appears to be small, rounded projects that look to be miniature handles, and may have been used for decorative purposes.

Nicole Dana '22

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This vessel was said to have been used for holding cosmetics, but oftentimes it held perfumed oils. Perfumes in ancient Egypt were seen as a luxury because they often consisted of imported exotic raw materials. Some perfumes were sacred, some were used in the home daily, some were used for ritual purposes, and others played a role in the mummification process.

In The Decorated Body in Ancient Egypt: Hairstyles, Cosmetics, and Tattoos it was said, “Egypt’s many perfumes were renowned throughout the ancient world for their quality, and were regarded as a high status commodity” (Fletcher et al. 8). This led me to believe that the alabastron would have been owned and used by elites within the society.

According to William Zimmerle, it is also evident that members of the religious sector would have had an alabastron to hold oils for rituals and ceremonies. It was fascinating to see, based on its usual contents, how the alabastron can be found in such diverse settings such as a home or a tomb.

Janella Flores’ 22
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Although intended to represent an elite ideal, illustrations found in tomb chapels have given historians and archaeologists an understanding of the grooming habits of the ancient Egyptians. A range of cosmetic products have been found through excavations, such as mirrors, combs, and razors (Wenzel and Kalloniatis 227). In addition to these functional grooming tools, there was the collective use of alabastron by ancient Egyptians.
This vessel has an elongated body and wide-rimmed opening. Vessels of this type were hollowed by the use of a drill borer, suggesting a level of precision by the craftsman while constructing these frail objects. The stopper most likely made out of a perishable material such as wax or fabric (Aston 196).

While there are no other markers on the outside of this object, the vessel’s overall construction helped archaeologists determine its functional purpose for carrying and containing oils. Constructing these vessels out of high-quality materials such as aragonite, allowed for these substances to keep cool in the Egyptian climate (Grzymski 124).

Ema Taglic ’22



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