Cylinder seal and modern impression: banquet scene with seated figures drinking a liquid through straws
Early Dynastic III
ca. 2600–2350 B.C.
1 3/8 in. (3.6 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1956
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 403
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. The imagery on this seal depicts a so-called banquet scene in two registers. In the top register a standing attendant faces a seated figure both with arms raised. Two seated figures face each other drinking liquid from a vessel through drinking tubes. In the lower register a standing attendant holding a spouted vessel faces a seated figure raising a vessel. Another figure stands next to square structure.
Acquired by the Museum in 1956, purchased from Elias S. David, New York.
Imai, Ayako. 1983. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Selections from the Collection of the Ancient Near East Department, exh. cat. Tokyo: Chunichi Shimbun, no. 120.
Pittman, Holly, in collaboration with Joan Aruz. 1987. Ancient Art in Miniature: Near Eastern Seals from the Collection of Martin and Sarah Cherkasky. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 22, fig. 9.