Although engraved stones had been used as early as the seventh millennium B.C. to stamp impressions in clay, the invention in the fourth millennium B.C. of carved cylinders that could be rolled over clay allowed the development of more complex seal designs. These cylinder seals, first used in Mesopotamia, served as a mark of ownership or identification. Seals were either impressed on lumps of clay that were used to close jars, doors, and baskets, or they were rolled onto clay tablets that recorded information about commercial or legal transactions. The seals were often made of precious stones. Protective properties may have been ascribed to both the material itself and the carved designs. Seals are important to the study of ancient Near Eastern art because many examples survive from every period and can, therefore, help to define chronological phases. Often preserving imagery no longer extant in any other medium, they serve as a visual chronicle of style and iconography.
The modern impression of the seal is shown so that the entire design can be seen. This seal shows a griffin demon with raised right hand, holding an attribute in the left hand, perhaps a bucket. Similar figures appear on monumental reliefs from the palace of Ashurnasirpal II in the ninth century B.C., several centuries after this seal was carved. A god wearing a skirt marked with a pattern, perhaps indicating mountains, holds a vessel from which streams of water flow. A crescent, star and plant appear between the two figures. A cuneiform inscription may have been added after the seal’s manufacture.
By 1811, collection of Captain Abraham Lockett, London; sometime before 1821, collection of Sir William Ousley, Crickhowell, Whales; from 1924, on loan by W. Gedney Beatty to the Museum (L.2364.7); acquired by the Museum in 1941, bequest of W. Gedney Beatty.
"Curious Creatures and Bizarre Beasts," Monmouth Museum, Lincroft, New Jersey, January 28–April 1, 1979.
Ousley, Sir William. 1821. Travels in Various Countries of the East; More Particularly Persia. Vol. II. London: Rodwell and Martin, p. 536, pl. XXXVII.