Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Cylinder seal and modern impression: snake god and deities with hands and feet in the form of snakes, scorpions, and goats

ca. 2350–2150 B.C.
H. 1 1/4 in. (3.2 cm)
Stone-Cylinder Seals
Credit Line:
Gift of Walter Hauser, 1955
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 403
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. A snake god with long coiled tail, whose form is human above and reptilian below, is approached from behind by minor deities wearing horned headdresses. One of these deities is winged, while the other has felines emerging wing-like from his hips. These deities have hands in the form of scorpions, and feet in the form of snakes and goats. A third, anthropomorphic god, holding a mace, stands behind a gatepost symbol, facing the snake god.
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