Explore highlights
Serpentinite cylinder seal


Height: 3.900 cm
Diameter: 2.700 cm

ME 103317

Room 56: Mesopotamia

    Serpentinite cylinder seal

    Akkadian, about 2300-2200 BC
    From Mesopotamia

    The designs on some cylinder seals are clearly telling a story, from a legend or myth, but all too often the details of the story are now lost to us. This seal may illustrate the fate of the Imdugud bird (normally depicted as a lion-headed eagle). Imdugud is probably the correct reading of the Sumerian name of the bird, who is called Anzu in the Akkadian language.

    Cuneiform documents dating from the early second millennium BC describe how Ea, god of water and wisdom, held the Tablet of Destiny, a cuneiform tablet on which the fates were written and gave supreme power to its possessor. According to these accounts, Ea decides to bathe, and removes his crown, clothes and tablet. Anzu steals the tablet but the hero god Ningirsu defeats the monstrous bird and recovers the tablet. This serpentinite seal appears to show Anzu (shown as a bird-man) brought as a prisoner before Ea.

    There are other versions of the story in which different gods, such as Ninutra and Enlil, replace Ningirsu and Ea.

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

    D. Collon, Catalogue of the Western Asi-1 (London, 1982)