Cylinder seal and modern impression: worshiper pouring a libation before a seated god


Not on view

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 depicts a so-called presentation scene, in which two standing figures approach a seated god. One, a suppliant goddess, wears a horned headdress and stands with uplifted hands behind the second figure, who holds a spouted vessel. He pours a libation into a vessel which stands on a stepped platform. The seated god wears a tiered garment and horned headdress and raises his right arm. A crescent moon is in the field above.

Cylinder seal and modern impression: worshiper pouring a libation before a seated god, Stone, Neo-Sumerian

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