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 hunting scene with an antelope galloping above a lion that appears to be pawing at its mate, whose head is turned back. Next to this pair, a winged sphinx stands on a cobra, its head lifted as if to strike, below a guilloche chain.
Acquired by the Museum in 1966, gift of Mr. and Mrs. John J. Klejman, New York.
"Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C." The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, November 17, 2008–March 15, 2009.
Aruz, Joan. 2008. “Cylinder Seal and Modern Impression: Animal Combat and Sphinx.” In Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C., exh. cat. edited by Joan Aruz, Kim Benzel, and Jean M. Evans. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 247, p. 395.
Aruz, Joan. 2008. Marks of Distinction: Seals and Cultural Exchange Between the Aegean and the Orient (ca. 2600-1360 B.C.). Mainz: Philipp von Zabern, pp. 140, 295, no. 188.