Early Islamic seal stones were made from a variety of stones that came in many shapes and forms. The undeciphered inscription on this pink carnelian stone is a single word and is probably a name.
Personal seals served as an individual’s official signature in the Near East long before the advent of Islam. Among the many stones employed as seals, carnelian was by far the most popular, owing at least in part to its availability, toughness, and resistance to abrasion. It was also noted to be the favorite stone of the Prophet Muhammad.
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Geography:Excavated in Iran, Nishapur
Dimensions:H. 9/16 in. (1.5 cm) W. 1/2 in. (1.3 cm) D. 3/16 in. (0.5 cm)
Credit Line:Rogers Fund, 1938
Carnelian Ring Sealstone
The personal seal, which served in the Near East long before the advent of Islam as an individual official signature (as well as a very effective means of securing goods), was essential to the conducting of business affairs. According to tradition, the prophet Muhammad was told that his letters to foreign rulers would be taken seriously only if stamped with a personal seal. He thereupon ordered a seal made in the form of a ring. Whether or not this story is true, the seal ring was certainly the most common way to carry a seal. Sometimes the inscription was cut into the metallic top of the ring, although it was probably more common for the inscription to be cut into a stone that was then set in the usual manner. Among the many stones employed as seals, carnelian was by far the most popular. We do not know whether this was, as Pliny (citing Zenothemis) affirmed, because it did not pull away the wax upon which it was being impressed. Certainly carnelian has other qualities that recommend it for this use: availability, toughness, and resistance to abrasion. Seals were also commonly applied to clay and, after application of ink to the surface of the seal, to paper.
Early Islamic sealstones were made from many kinds of stones and came in many forms. The inscription on this pink carnelian stone is a single word, presumably a name. Possible readings are very numerous given the fact that there are five consonants and an absence not only of vowels (not uncommon in Arabic inscriptions and texts) but also of diacriticals, as is often the case with such early "Kufic" inscriptions. Here one suspects some sort of Turkic name.
[Jenkins and Keene 1983]
1. Allan, James. "Khatam, Khatim." The Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 4. Leiden, 1978.
2. Pliny. Natural History, vol. 10. Translated by D. E. Eichholz. Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1962, p. 235.
Inscription: [Name, undeciphered]
1937, excavated at Sabz Pushan in Nishapur, Iran by the Metropolitan Museum of Art's expedition; 1938, acquired by the Museum in the division of finds
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Islamic Jewelry in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," April 22–August 14, 1983, no. 3e.
Keene, Manuel. "The Lapidary Arts in Islam." Expedition (1981). p. 29, ill. fig. 3e (b/w).
Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn, and Manuel Keene. Islamic Jewelry in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1983. no. 3e, pp. 19, 21, ill. fig. 3e (b/w).
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