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 many motifs juxtaposed at different levels in the pictorial field. A nude hero wearing a belt and conical plumed cap stands between two lions, holding one upside down by its tail. To the right is a smaller scene of a griffin attacking a stag. A double-headed eagle hovers between the two scenes and, at the same level, another smaller nude belted hero is flanked by dogs.
Until 1992, Erlenmeyer collection, purchased by Professor Hans and Marie-Louise Erlenmeyer between 1943 and the early 1960s; acquired by the Museum in 1992, purchased at the sale of Western Asiatic Cylinder Seals and Antiquities from the Erlenmeyer collection, Sotheby’s, London, July 9, 1992, no. 168.
"Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C." The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, November 17, 2008–March 15, 2009.
Erlenmeyer, Marie-Louise, and Hans Erlenmeyer. 1964. "Uber Philister und Kreter. IV." Orientalia 33, p. 202, pl. II, fig. 2.
Erlenmeyer, Marie-Louise, and Hans Erlenmeyer. 1966. "Einige Syrische Siegel mit agaischen Bildelementen." Archiv fur Orientforschungen 21, p. 32, no. 2 and 5b.
Sotheby's. 1992. Western Asiatic Cylinder Seals and Antiquities from the Erlenmeyer collection (Part I). 9 July 1992, London, lot 168, p. 102.
Aruz, Joan. 1993. "Cylinder Seal with Griffin Attacking a Stag and Humans and Lions." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 51 (2), Recent Acquisitions: A Selection 1992-1993 (Autumn, 1993), p. 8.
Aruz, Joan. 2008. “Cylinder Seal and Modern Impression: Hero Dominating Lions.” In Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C., exh. cat. edited by Joan Aruz, Kim Benzel, and Jean M. Evans. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 256, pp. 400-401.
Aruz, Joan. 2008. Marks of Distinction: Seals and Cultural Exchange Between the Aegean and the Orient (ca. 2600-1360 B.C.). Mainz: Philipp von Zabern, pp. 218, 315, no. 251, fig. 434.
Aruz, Joan. 2010. "Intercultural Styles, Animal Combats, and the Art of Exchange." In Die Bedeutung der Minoischen und Mykenischen Glyptik. Corpus der Minoischen und Mykenischen Siegel 8. Mainz am Rhein: Philipp von Zabern, pp. 76-77, fig. 12.