Cylinder seal and modern impression: worshiper before a seated ruler or deity; seated female under a grape arbor

Period: Old Elamite

Date: ca. early 2nd millennium B.C.

Geography: Iran

Culture: Elamite

Medium: Serpentine

Dimensions: 1.3 in. (3.3 cm)

Classification: Stone-Cylinder Seals

Credit Line: Purchase, Howard Phipps Foundation Gift, 1987

Accession Number: 1987.343


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 two seated figures holding cups; before them stands a male figure in a long robe next to a table. While the first seated figure, probably the ruler, wears a wrapped robe and sits on a throne, the second, perhaps his queen, is enveloped in a wide, flounced garment and is elevated on a platform beneath an overhanging vine. A crescent is shown in the field.