Sealing with stamp seal impressions: radiating griffins; banquet scene

Old Assyrian Trading Colony

Not on view

Stamp seals first appeared in northern Mesopotamia during the 6th millennium B.C. and were used throughout the ancient Near East until the innovation of the cylinder seal in the second half of the 4th millennium B.C. Cylinder seals were the preferred administrative tool in Mesopotamia during the 3rd and 2nd millennia B.C.In Anatolia, stamp seals predominated, and it was only during the Old Assyrian Period (ca. 2000-1700 BCE) that Anatolians used cylinder seals in their administrative practices.

Like cylinder seals, stamp seals could be made from a variety of local and exotic stones as well as metal and even clay. They were impressed directly upon tablets, vessels, and clay bullae used to seal storage containers and doors. Stamp seals exhibit either perforated backs or handles, sometimes with perforation, for ease in wearing and handling the objects. Stamps seals could be simple in shape, but there are numerous examples of more complex shapes and some stamp seals were rendered as animals or human figures. The images carved into the seal face itself ranged from simple geometric patterns to elaborate scenes of human and divine images. 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.

Lumps of clay, called bullae, were attached to doorways and storage containers like jars and bags in order to prevent tampering, identify the contents within, or identify ownership of, or responsibility for, the goods. They were often impressed with stamp or cylinder seals and were removed when the door or container were opened. These impressions and any associated inscriptions are often used to date the building levels in which they were found. Unlike the goods they sealed, bullae are well preserved in the archeological record and represent the material remnant of administrative procedures. Sometimes, the clay is also impressed with the material to which it was originally attached, leaving an imprint of textiles, string, or other materials on the object.

This clay bulla most likely came from the early 18th century Sarıkaya palace at Acemhöyük in central Anatolia. Thousands of bullae and clay labels were found in the palace, some with impressions from royal seals demonstrating connections with northern Mesopotamia and Syria. One side of this bulla shows a wheel formed by six crested birds alternating with dots. The curled crest flowing from the back of the head is common on heraldic eagles and griffins in Anatolian and Syrian glyptic art during the Old Assyrian Period. The other side of the bulla, which is much less clear, shows a scene of a seated goddess (left) and god (right) using straws to drink from a vessel between them. The goddess is supported by an antelope and the god by a lion; a disembodied head or mask and a seven-petalled rosette float above the vessel. The goddess is also associated with a disc and crescent.

Sealing with stamp seal impressions: radiating griffins; banquet scene, Ceramic, Old Assyrian Trading Colony

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