Cylinder seal

Cylinder seal

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Cylinder seal'
Start a new discussion about 'Cylinder seal'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia

A cylinder seal is a cylinder engraved with a 'picture story', used in ancient times to roll an impression onto a two-dimensional surface, generally wet clay
Clay
Clay is a general term including many combinations of one or more clay minerals with traces of metal oxides and organic matter. Geologic clay deposits are mostly composed of phyllosilicate minerals containing variable amounts of water trapped in the mineral structure.- Formation :Clay minerals...

. Cylinder seals were invented around 3500 BC in the Near East
Near East
The Near East is a geographical term that covers different countries for geographers, archeologists, and historians, on the one hand, and for political scientists, economists, and journalists, on the other...

, at the contemporary site of Susa
Susa
Susa was an ancient city of the Elamite, Persian and Parthian empires of Iran. It is located in the lower Zagros Mountains about east of the Tigris River, between the Karkheh and Dez Rivers....

 in south-western Iran
Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

 and at the early site of Uruk
Uruk
Uruk was an ancient city of Sumer and later Babylonia, situated east of the present bed of the Euphrates river, on the ancient dry former channel of the Euphrates River, some 30 km east of modern As-Samawah, Al-Muthannā, Iraq.Uruk gave its name to the Uruk...

 in southern Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia is a toponym for the area of the Tigris–Euphrates river system, largely corresponding to modern-day Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran.Widely considered to be the cradle of civilization, Bronze Age Mesopotamia included Sumer and the...

. They are linked to the invention of the latter cuneiform
Cuneiform
Cuneiform can refer to:*Cuneiform script, an ancient writing system originating in Mesopotamia in the 4th millennium BC*Cuneiform , three bones in the human foot*Cuneiform Records, a music record label...

 writing on clay cylinders. They were used as administrative tool, jewelry and as magical amulets, later versions would employ notations with Mesopotamian hieroglyphs. In later periods, they were used to notarize
Notary public
A notary public in the common law world is a public officer constituted by law to serve the public in non-contentious matters usually concerned with estates, deeds, powers-of-attorney, and foreign and international business...

 or attest to multiple impressions of clay documents. Graves
Grave goods
Grave goods, in archaeology and anthropology, are the items buried along with the body.They are usually personal possessions, supplies to smooth the deceased's journey into the afterlife or offerings to the gods. Grave goods are a type of votive deposit...

 and other sites housing precious items such as gold, silver, beads, and gemstones often included one or two cylinder seals, as honorific grave goods
Grave goods
Grave goods, in archaeology and anthropology, are the items buried along with the body.They are usually personal possessions, supplies to smooth the deceased's journey into the afterlife or offerings to the gods. Grave goods are a type of votive deposit...

.

The seal itself was made from hard stone, glass, or ceramics such as Egyptian faience
Egyptian faience
Egyptian faience is a non-clay based ceramic displaying surface vitrification which creates a bright lustre of various blue-green colours. Having not been made from clay it is often not classed as pottery. It is called "Egyptian faience" to distinguish it from faience, the tin glazed pottery...

. Many varieties of material such as hematite
Hematite
Hematite, also spelled as haematite, is the mineral form of iron oxide , one of several iron oxides. Hematite crystallizes in the rhombohedral system, and it has the same crystal structure as ilmenite and corundum...

, obsidian
Obsidian
Obsidian is a naturally occurring volcanic glass formed as an extrusive igneous rock.It is produced when felsic lava extruded from a volcano cools rapidly with minimum crystal growth...

, steatite, amethyst
Amethyst
Amethyst is a violet variety of quartz often used in jewelry. The name comes from the Ancient Greek ἀ a- and μέθυστος methustos , a reference to the belief that the stone protected its owner from drunkenness; the ancient Greeks and Romans wore amethyst and made drinking vessels of it in the belief...

 and carnelian
Carnelian
Carnelian is a brownish-red mineral which is commonly used as a semi-precious gemstone. Similar to carnelian is sard, which is generally harder and darker...

 were used to make cylinder seals, but lapis lazuli
Lapis lazuli
Lapis lazuli is a relatively rare semi-precious stone that has been prized since antiquity for its intense blue color....

 was especially popular because of the beauty of the blue stone and as The alluvial country of Mesopotamia lacks good stone for carving; hence the large stones of early cylinders were imported probably from Iran.

While most Mesopotamian cylinder seals form an image through the use of depressions in the cylinder surface (see lead photo above), some cylinder seals print images using raised areas on the cylinder (see San Andrés image below). The former are used primarily on wet clays; the latter, sometimes referred to as roller stamps, are used to print images on cloth and other similar two dimensional surfaces.

Cylinder seals are a form of impression seal
Impression seal
The impression seal is a common seal that leaves an impression, typically in clay and less often in wax. In antiquity they were common, largely because they served to authenticate legal documents, such as tax receipts, contracts, wills and decrees...

, a category which includes the stamp seal
Stamp seal
The stamp seal is a carved object, usually stone, first made in the 4th millennium BC, and probably earlier. They were used to impress their picture or inscription into soft, prepared clay....

 and finger ring seal.

Uses



Cylinder seal impressions were made on a variety of surfaces:
  • clay tablets
  • doors
  • storage jars
  • bales of commodities
    Commodity
    In economics, a commodity is the generic term for any marketable item produced to satisfy wants or needs. Economic commodities comprise goods and services....

  • components of fabricated objects
  • amulet
    Amulet
    An amulet, similar to a talisman , is any object intended to bring good luck or protection to its owner.Potential amulets include gems, especially engraved gems, statues, coins, drawings, pendants, rings, plants and animals; even words said in certain occasions—for example: vade retro satana—, to...

    s
  • cloth
  • bricks
  • envelopes

Theme-driven, memorial, and commemorative nature


The images depicted on cylinder seals were mostly theme-driven, often sociological or religious. Instead of addressing the authority of the seal, a better study may be of the thematic nature of the seals, since they presented the ideas of the society in pictographic and text form. In a famous cylinder depicting Darius I of Persia: he is aiming his drawn bow at an upright enraged lion impaled by two arrows, while his chariot horse is trampling a deceased lion. The scene is framed between two slim palm trees, a block of cuneiform text, and above the scene, the Faravahar
Faravahar
Faravahar is one of the best-known symbols of Zoroastrianism, the state religion of ancient Iran. This religious-cultural symbol was adapted by the Pahlavi dynasty to represent the Iranian nation....

 symbol of Ahura Mazda
Ahura Mazda
Ahura Mazdā is the Avestan name for a divinity of the Old Iranian religion who was proclaimed the uncreated God by Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism...

, the god representation of Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism is a religion and philosophy based on the teachings of prophet Zoroaster and was formerly among the world's largest religions. It was probably founded some time before the 6th century BCE in Greater Iran.In Zoroastrianism, the Creator Ahura Mazda is all good, and no evil...

.

Cylinder seals


The reference below, Garbini, covers many of the following categories of cylinder seal.

A categorization of cylinder seals:
  • Akkadian cylinder seals.
    • Akkadian seal, ca. 2300 BC, stone seal w/ modern impression. See National Geographis Ref. The glyptic (the Scenes) shows "God in barge", people, and offerings.
  • Assyria
    Assyria
    Assyria was a Semitic Akkadian kingdom, extant as a nation state from the mid–23rd century BC to 608 BC centred on the Upper Tigris river, in northern Mesopotamia , that came to rule regional empires a number of times through history. It was named for its original capital, the ancient city of Assur...

    n cylinder seals.
  • Cypriote Cylinder Seals.
  • Egypt
    Egypt
    Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

    ian cylinder seals.
    • Egyptian Naqada
      Naqada
      Naqada is a town on the west bank of the Nile in the Egyptian governorate of Qena. It was known in Ancient Egypt as Nubt and in classical antiquity as Ombos. Its name derives from ancient Egyptian nub, meaning gold, on account of the proximity of gold mines in the Eastern Desert.Naqada comprises...

       period (tombs, graves), (imported).
    • Egyptian Faience
      Faience
      Faience or faïence is the conventional name in English for fine tin-glazed pottery on a delicate pale buff earthenware body, originally associated with Faenza in northern Italy. The invention of a white pottery glaze suitable for painted decoration, by the addition of an oxide of tin to the slip...

      ; see Pepi I ext link.
  • Hittite
    Hittites
    The Hittites were a Bronze Age people of Anatolia.They established a kingdom centered at Hattusa in north-central Anatolia c. the 18th century BC. The Hittite empire reached its height c...

     cylinder seals.
    • Clay envelope usage, etc.; see Kultepe
      Kültepe
      Kültepe is a modern village near the ancient city of Kaneš or Kanesh , located in the Kayseri Province of Turkey's Central Anatolia Region...

      .
  • Kassite(the Kassites
    Kassites
    The Kassites were an ancient Near Eastern people who gained control of Babylonia after the fall of the Old Babylonian Empire after ca. 1531 BC to ca. 1155 BC...

    ), cylinder seals.
  • Mittanian cylinder seals.
  • Old Babylonian cylinder seals.
  • Persian cylinder seals; see Darius I, Robinson ref.
  • Proto-Elamite cylinder seals.
  • Sumerian
    Sumerian language
    Sumerian is the language of ancient Sumer, which was spoken in southern Mesopotamia since at least the 4th millennium BC. During the 3rd millennium BC, there developed a very intimate cultural symbiosis between the Sumerians and the Akkadians, which included widespread bilingualism...

     cylinder seals.
    • Seals of the "Moon-God"; see Sin
      Sin (mythology)
      Sin or Nanna was the god of the moon in Mesopotamian mythology. Nanna is a Sumerian deity, the son of Enlil and Ninlil, and became identified with Semitic Sin. The two chief seats of Nanna's/Sin's worship were Ur in the south of Mesopotamia and Harran in the north.- Name :The original meaning of...

      .
    • see Ref. (Robinson), Seal of Ur-Nammu
      Ur-Nammu
      Ur-Nammu founded the Sumerian 3rd dynasty of Ur, in southern Mesopotamia, following several centuries of Akkadian and Gutian rule...

      , 2112-2095 BC. Close-up picture of Seal, and adjacent 'modern impression', high resolution, 2X-3X natural size.
    • "Shamash pictographic seals
      Shamash
      Shamash was a native Mesopotamian deity and the sun god in the Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian pantheons. Shamash was the god of justice in Babylonia and Assyria, corresponding to Sumerian Utu...

      "; see Mari, Syria
      Mari, Syria
      Mari was an ancient Sumerian and Amorite city, located 11 kilometers north-west of the modern town of Abu Kamal on the western bank of Euphrates river, some 120 km southeast of Deir ez-Zor, Syria...

      .
  • Neo-Sumerian cylinder seals.
    • see Ref (Garbini), "Seated God, and Worshippers", Cylinder seal, and a modern Impressin, p. 40, (British Museum, London).
  • Syrian cylinder seals.

See also


  • Seal (device)
    Seal (device)
    A seal can be a figure impressed in wax, clay, or some other medium, or embossed on paper, with the purpose of authenticating a document ; but the term can also mean the device for making such impressions, being essentially a mould with the mirror image of the design carved in sunken- relief or...

  • Impression seal
    Impression seal
    The impression seal is a common seal that leaves an impression, typically in clay and less often in wax. In antiquity they were common, largely because they served to authenticate legal documents, such as tax receipts, contracts, wills and decrees...

  • Stamp seal
    Stamp seal
    The stamp seal is a carved object, usually stone, first made in the 4th millennium BC, and probably earlier. They were used to impress their picture or inscription into soft, prepared clay....

  • LMLK seal
    LMLK seal
    LMLK seals were stamped on the handles of large storage jars mostly in and around Jerusalem during the reign of King Hezekiah based on several complete jars found in situ buried under a destruction layer caused by Sennacherib at Lachish...

  • Scaraboid seal
    Scaraboid seal
    The Scaraboid seal is a category of the impression seals of Egypt. It is also a category of Jewellery and amulets, though as a seal it is of minor size ....


Further reading

  • Bahn, Paul. Lost Treasures, Great Discoveries in World Archaeology, Ed. by Paul G. Bahn, (Barnes and Noble Books, New York), c 1999. Examples of, or discussions of Stamp seals, cylinder seals and a metal stamp seal.
  • Garbini, Giovanni. Landmarks of the World's Art, The Ancient World, by Giovanni Garbini, (McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, Toronto), General Eds, Bernard S. Myers, New York, Trewin Copplestone, London, c 1966. Discussion, or pictures of about 25 cylinder seals"; also lists the "Scaraboid seal", an impression seal (needs to be a mirror/reverse to be an impression seal).
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art. Cuneiform Texts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art
    Metropolitan Museum of Art
    The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a renowned art museum in New York City. Its permanent collection contains more than two million works, divided into nineteen curatorial departments. The main building, located on the eastern edge of Central Park along Manhattan's Museum Mile, is one of the...

    : Tablets, Cones, and Bricks of the Third and Second Millennia B.C.,
    vol. 1 (New York, 1988). The final section (Bricks) of the book concerns cylinder Seals, with a foreword describing the purpose of the section as to instigate Research into cylinder Seals. The 'cylinder sealing' on the bricks, was done multiple times per brick. Some are of high quality, and some are not. (Also contains the only 2 el Amarna letters
    Amarna letters
    The Amarna letters are an archive of correspondence on clay tablets, mostly diplomatic, between the Egyptian administration and its representatives in Canaan and Amurru during the New Kingdom...

    , in the USA, with Analysis.)
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art
    Metropolitan Museum of Art
    The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a renowned art museum in New York City. Its permanent collection contains more than two million works, divided into nineteen curatorial departments. The main building, located on the eastern edge of Central Park along Manhattan's Museum Mile, is one of the...

    . Ancient Near Eastern Art, (Reprint), Metr. Mus. of Art Photograph Studio, Designed, Alvin Grossman, Photography, Lynton Gardiner, (Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin (Spring 1984)), c 1984. 56pgs.
  • National Geogr. Soc. Wonders of the Ancient World; National Geographic Atlas of Archeology, Norman Hammond, Consultant, Nat'l Geogr. Soc., (Multiple Staff authors), (Nat'l Geogr., R.H.Donnelley & Sons, Willard, OH), 1994, 1999, Reg. or Deluxe Ed. Origins of Writing, section, pp 68–75. Akkadian
    Akkadian language
    Akkadian is an extinct Semitic language that was spoken in ancient Mesopotamia. The earliest attested Semitic language, it used the cuneiform writing system derived ultimately from ancient Sumerian, an unrelated language isolate...

     Cylinder seal, with its modern seal impression. p. 71.
  • Robinson, Andrew. The Story of Writing, Andrew Robinson, (Thames and Hudson), c 1995, paperback ed., c 1999. (Page 70, Chapter 4: Cuneiform) Ur-Nammu
    Ur-Nammu
    Ur-Nammu founded the Sumerian 3rd dynasty of Ur, in southern Mesopotamia, following several centuries of Akkadian and Gutian rule...

     cylinder seal (and impression), with 2095 BCE hieroglyphs, 2X-3X; Darius I, impression only, of chariot hunting scene, 2X, ca 500 BCE.

External links