Museum of Ancient Inventions: Sumerian Cuneiform Cylinder Seal

Sumerian Cuneiform Cylinder Seal, Iraq, 3000 BCE

Seals were most often made of stone but also sometimes of bone, ivory, faience, glass, metal, wood, or even sun-dried or baked clay. A recessed inscription was carved onto the cylinder, which produced a raised impression when rolled on a clay tablet or envelope. Cylinder seals were used to protect vessels, clay envelopes and storeroom door latches from tampering. They guaranteed authenticity, marked ownership, indicated participation in a legal transaction and protected goods against theft.

Method of Construction

Constructed by: Tanja Gohlert

This reconstruction is based on an inscription on a clay envelope in the Rare Book Collection at Smith. The inscription is the only one in the group that has human figures: a seated deity/priest, a standing goddess/priestess and a bareheaded worshipper. This zinc seal was made by carving the inscription into a piece of wax and then making a plaster mold into which the zinc was poured. The end product is a bit larger than the original and not quite as detailed.

Sources, Resources and Links

Collon, Dominique. Interpreting the Past: Near Eastern Seals. Berkeley, CA: U of California P, 1990.

Collon, Dominique. First Impressions: Cylinder Seals in the Ancient Near East. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1987.

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