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stele (stēˈlē) [key], slab of stone or terra-cotta, usually oblong, set up in a vertical position, for votive or memorial purposes. Upon the slabs were carved inscriptions accompanied by ornamental designs or reliefs of particular significance. Stelae were often used as commemorative stones in ancient Egypt and as boundary markers in Mesopotamia. The marble funerary stelae of Greece, especially of Athens, are among the most beautiful monuments of classical art. Likenesses of the dead were sculptured in relief and painted upon them. Stelae of great age are found in China and among the ruins of the Mayan culture in Mexico and Central America.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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