Fired steatite cylinder seal

From Mesopotamia
Early Dynastic period, about 3000-2800 BC

At the end of the fourth millennium BC the complex themes of cylinder seals (such as are seen on a seal from Uruk in The British Museum) were replaced by more schematic designs. The most common design consisted of oval patterns which sometimes look like eyes or fish. These are found from Susa, in south-west Iran, to Egypt and at a large number of Syrian sites. It is likely that the spread of these patterns reflects the emergence of a long-distance trade-route.

By the early third millennium BC, when this seal was made, the trend towards stylization went even further, with tall, thin, patterned seals like this example. They were often made of talc (steatite) hardened by firing to form enstatite. They have been given various names: Piedmont (because of their geographical distribution along the foothills of the Zagros and southern Turkey), Ninevite 5 (because they were found in Level 5 of a deep sounding at Nineveh), and Early Dynastic I. The most reliably dated seals have been found in the Diyala region, an important tributary of the River Tigris which links lowland Mesopotamia with the plateau of Iran to the east. The closest parallels for the cross-shaped design on the seal come from Nineveh

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More information


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

D.J. Wiseman, Catalogue of the Western Asiat (London, 1962)


Height: 6.500 cm
Diameter: 1.700 cm

Museum number

ME 128840


Herzfeld Collection


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