Aragonite (shell) cylinder seal with a contest scene

From Mesopotamia
Early Dynastic Period, about 2400-2350 BC

Two hero figures wrestle with a stag while two gods (distinguished by their horned head-dress) grapple with a human-headed bull and a bull. These gods wear an early style of head-dress with multiple horns either side of a small cone; for later versions of this head-dress, see the seal of Adda, also in the British Museum.

Early examples of contest scenes show ordinary men spearing or stabbing wild animals. However, during the second half of the third millennium BC, the designs became increasingly monumental in style. Ordinary men gave way to 'heroes' with elaborate hair styles, joined by bull-men (who may have their origin to the east of Mesopotamia in Iran). Analyses of seals found in graves have suggested that seals with combat scenes had male owners, while seals owned by women were carved with 'banquet scenes'.

The central inscription on this seal seems to make no sense, but might possibly be the name of the seal owner.

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More information


D. Collon, First impressions: cylinder se (London, The British Museum Press, 1987)


Length: 2.900 cm
Diameter: 1.900 cm

Museum number

ME 89078


Acquired in 1877


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