Cylinder seal and modern impression: goddess leading a worshiper to a seated deity; bull god

Old Assyrian Trading Colony

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. This seal shows a goddess wearing a horned headdress leading a worshiper by the hand towards a seated deity holding a cup; a vessel on a stand is before him. Behind him are five human heads (three with horns). At a right angle to the main scene are a man in combat with a lion and a man in combat with a bull. In the field are a crescent and a disk, a bull-altar with a conical object on its back, a monkey, and a number of animal heads. The seal is a particularly fine example of the Anatolian type of cylinder seal which developed during the Old Assyrian period. While adopting the Mesopotamian cylinder seal form and presentation theme, its Anatolian characteristics include figures in different orientations, an abundance of small filler motifs and animals, the striated rendering of figures, and the herringbone patterning of the clothing. Anatolian seals were used by both Assyrians and Anatolians and represent the highly innovative and fluid artistic styles born from the high degree of intercultural contact in central Anatolia during this period.

Cylinder seal and modern impression: goddess leading a worshiper to a seated deity; bull god, Quartzite, Old Assyrian Trading Colony

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