Mesopotamian stamp seals

The traditional Mesopotamian seal was the cylinder seal. However, during the first millennium BC the alphabet, written on scrolls of papyrus and leather, gradually replaced the cuneiform script, written on clay. Scrolls were tied with string and the knot was secured with a lump of clay, which was then stamped with a seal. As it is easier to stamp the clay with a stamp seal than use a large cylinder seal, stamp seals became increasingly popular.

Stamp seals are generally quite small (one to two centimetres across). They were made in many shapes with a design carved in intaglio (cut into the stone) on the base. Early seals and their impressions (sealings) have been found at a number of sites in south-eastern Anatolia, the Levant and north Mesopotamia, and date to the late Neolithic period (7500-6000 BC). The earliest stamp seals were used in administration to impress clay tags and roughly circular pieces of clay. These date to the Halaf period and come from excavations at Tell Sabi Abyad and Arpachiyah in north Mesopotamia. A little later, seals were used on the fastenings of doors and containers.

Stamp seals continued to be used throughout the ancient Near East, although in Mesopotamia and in surrounding areas the cylinder seal came to dominate at various periods. In the mid-first millennium BC stamp seals, once again, become the most common form.

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