Cylinder seal and modern impression: three "pigtailed" ladies with double-handled vessels

Period: Late Uruk–Jemdet Nasr

Date: ca. 3300–2900 B.C.

Geography: Southern Mesopotamia

Medium: Rock crystal

Dimensions: 0.79 in. (2.01 cm)

Classification: Stone-Cylinder Seals

Credit Line: Gift of Leon Pomerance, 1985

Accession Number: 1985.143


This small seal may depict female workers with pigtails seated on mats, perhaps engaged in the production of textiles and pottery. They are shown in a very schematic fashion, typical of such small cylinder seals of this period. A variety of scenes carved on these early seals show economic activities, including food production, processions, or ritual acts. These may reflect different "departments" within the central authority of large cities like Uruk in southern Mesopotamia. The earliest cylinder seals were rolled over hollow clay balls containing tokens; later they were impressed on clay tags and tablets marked with tally signs. However, although many of these small schematic seals have been found, very few contemporary impressions are known. This contrasts with much larger cylinder seals, many of which are very finely carved and depict mythological or ritual scenes, often including the so-called priest-king. Fewer of these larger seals have been found, although their impressions are much more frequent than the smaller seals, suggesting a different usage. Unlike the small cylinders, the large examples are generally unpierced and often have an animal carved as part of the seal or cast in metal and fixed on top.