Flint knife with an ivory handle

From Sheikh Hamada, Egypt
Late Predynastic period, around 3100 BC

The 'Pitt-Rivers knife'

The flint knives of the late Predynastic period were sometimes mounted in ivory handles. This example, formerly in the collection of Lieutenant-General Pitt-Rivers (1827-1900), is decorated with rows of wild animals carved in raised relief. The animals include elephants, lions, Barbary sheep and cattle. All these could probably be seen in Egypt at the time, and some are shown on a slate palette known as the Hunters' Palette (also from the late Predynastic period). Unlike those on the palette, the animals on this knife handle are arranged in orderly rows. This arrangement is a precursor to artistic convention in the time of the pharaohs, when all figures in a scene were set on a horizontal baseline.

It seems probable that, like the Hunters' Palette, this knife was purely ceremonial. The flint blade is flaked on only one side. The small slivers of flint removed by pressure flaking on the front give rise to the term 'ripple-flaked' used to describe this type of blade. In this example, great care has been taken to ensure that the flakes were removed evenly, suggesting that this was for artistic effect more than any functional consideration. This fits with the use of ivory rather than wood for the handle, and the fine carving with which it is decorated.

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More information


S. Quirke and A.J. Spencer, The British Museum book of anc (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)

T.G.H. James, An introduction to ancient Egy (London, 1979)

A.J. Spencer, Early Egypt, The rise of civil (London, The British Museum Press, 1993)


Length: 24.000 cm

Museum number

EA 68512



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