Agate; H. 1 1/16 in. (2.7 cm), W. 1 1/16 (2.7 cm), Diam. 1/2 in. (1.2 cm)
Purchase, by exchange, 1914 (14.104.1)
This Minoan seal is lentoid, which describes its shape when viewed in profile. It is engraved with an image of a crouching griffin, a powerful mythical creature with the head and wings of a bird and the body of a lion. Before literacy became widespread, such seals served for identification or to mark ownership. While the first seals may have been made of organic materials that have perished, the earliest surviving examples are of clay. Later, in the Early Minoan period, various easily worked materials such as ivory, bone, shell, and soft stones, including serpentine and steatite, were adopted. In the Middle and Late Minoan periods, harder stones such as rock crystal, hematite, jasper, agate, and chalcedony gained favor. The general dating of seals is correlated with that of the palaces that were the centers of culture on Crete. The apogee of Minoan gem engraving occurred during the time of the second palaces, between about 1600 and 1450 B.C., when semiprecious stones such as agate were engraved with consummately rendered figural subjects, particularly animals.