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 a suppliant goddess with raised hands wearing a horned headdress and tiered robe, standing beside a four-line cuneiform inscription in Akkadian invoking the god Nabu. She is followed by a bull with a lighting fork on its back, behind which an unidentified vertical object appears.
Ca. 1911, known and possibly purchased by Ernst Herzfeld, near Tell al-Deylam (ancient Dilbat); by 1914, collection of Georg Hahn, Berlin; acquired by the Museum in 1947, gift of Georg Hahn.
“Mit Sieben Siegeln Versehen: das Siegel in Wirtschaft und Kunst des Alten Orients.” Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Vorderasiatisches Museum, May 30, 1997–September 28, 1997.
Bossert, Helmuth Theodor. 1930. Geschichte des Kunstgewerbes aller Zeiten und Völker. Berlin: E. Wasmuth, pl. 421, 2 and 11.