Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Cylinder seal and modern impression: four registers: hands, human and goat heads

Old Syrian
ca. 1720–1650 B.C.
H. 3/4 in. (1.9 cm); Diam. 3/8 in. (1 cm)
Stone-Cylinder Seals
Credit Line:
Gift of Nanette B. Kelekian, in memory of Charles Dikran and Beatrice Kelekian, 1999
Accession Number:
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 is divided into four horizontal registers. In the top register are six human heads shown in profile, five facing left and one facing right. The register below shows six vertical hands. In the next register are three goat heads and one horizontal hand. In the bottom register, five horizontal hands are shown.
Acquired by Dikran G. Kelekian between 1893-1910; Kelekian collection (until 1999); acquired by the Museum in 1999, gift of Nanette B. Kelekian, New York.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2000. "Departmental Accessions: Ancient Near East." Annual Report of the Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, No. 130 (Jul. 1,1999 - Jun. 30, 2000), p. 9.
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