Cylinder seal and modern impression: worshiper with an animal offering before a seated deity
ca. 1480–1450 B.C.
Iran, Luristan, Surkh Dum
0.98 in. (2.49 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1943
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 404
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 seated deity wearing a horned headdress and holding a rod and ring. Before him a worshipper stands holding a horned animal. A star is in the field between them. To the left is a secondary scene divided into two registers: above, a lion stalks a horned animal; below, a worshipper stands before a deity who holds a staff. In the field surrounding them are a bird above a fish, a fly, and an animal with a long, bushy tail.
In three weeks of excavation at Surkh Dum, Erich Schmidt and the Holmes Expedition to Luristan uncovered a circular mud-brick structure with a platform in the center, perhaps a sanctuary or shrine. The building contained a wealth of objects of bronze, ivory, bone, faience, and ceramic, as well as about two hundred cylinder and stamp seals, most dating from the ninth to the eighth century B.C. Some of the objects, however, were heirlooms of considerably earlier date. In spite of its brevity, the excavation at Surkh Dum is important for having uncovered objects from a settlement site rather than from one of the cemeteries more commonly found in Luristan.
1938, excavated by Erich F. Schmidt, on behalf of the Second Holmes Expedition sponsored by the American Institute for Persian (later Iranian) Art and Archaeology; acquired by the Museum in 1943, purchased from the American Institute for Iranian Art and Archaeology, New York.
“Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me,” The Jewish Museum, New York, May 3–September 6, 1964.
Porada, Edith. 1946. "The Origin of Winnirke's Cylinder Seal." Journal of Near Eastern Studies 5, p. 258, fig. 4.
Porada, Edith. 1962. Alt-Iran: die Kunst in Vorislamischer Zeit. Baden-Baden, Germany: Holle Verlag, p. 39, fig. 21.
Farkas, Ann R. 1964. Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me. exh. cat. New York: The Jewish Museum, no. 91.
Porada, Edith. 1965. The Art of Ancient Iran. New York: Crown Publishers, p. 47, fig. 22.
Muscarella, Oscar W. 1974. "Decorated Bronze Beakers from Iran." American Journal of Archaeology 78 (3), p. 246, pl. 48, fig. 24.
Muscarella, Oscar W. 1981. "Surkh Dum at The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Mini-Report." Journal of Field Archaeology 8, p. 353, no. 34.
Dyson, Robert H., and Mary V. Harris. 1986. "The Archaeological Context of Cylinder Seals Excavated on the Iranian Plateau." In Insight Through Images, Studies in Honor of Edith Porada, edited by Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati. Bibliotheca Mesopotamica 21. Malibu: Undena Publications, no. 221, p. 104.
Schmidt, Erich F., M. van Loon, H.H. Curvers. 1989. The Holmes Expeditions to Luristan. Chicago: The University of Chicago Oriental Institute Publications, Vol. 108, p. 218, p. 584, pl. 134:32.