Byzantine and Russian icons, £15.99
Length: 6.700 cm
Width: 4.500 cm
Room 54: Anatolia and Urartu
Stone gable-shaped seal
From central Anatolia (modern Turkey) or northern Syria, about 4000-3000 BC
This period saw an increase in permanent settlements based on farming and animal husbandry and stamp seals such as this were developed for trade and security. They are common from central Anatolia to Syria. Presumably they were used to make an impression on lumps of clay fastening the containers of goods or commodities, and could identify such things as the owner, the product, its origin or its destination. They also prevented unauthorized access.
It is clear that sealing had long been a feature of the prehistoric Near East, though the purpose of the earliest seals and seal-pendants is not obvious. Prototypes of stamp-seals have been found at a number of sites in northern Mesopotamia and Syria, dating to the sixth millennium BC, for example at Bouqras in Syria. By the fifth millennium BC clay tags with impressions are evident, for example at Arpachiyah in northern Iraq, while extensive sealing practices have been reconstructed at Sabi Abyad in Syria. By the late fourth millennium BC the scale of seal use is demonstrated at Arslantepe in Anatolia where over 5000 sealings (impressions) were recovered.
While stamp seals were the tradition of Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia and Syria, from around 3500 BC the cylinder seal was developed. Its exact place of origin is unclear but early examples have been found in south-western Iran and southern Mesopotamia. However, recent discoveries in Syria suggest the early use of cylinder seals there, too, alongside the use of stamp seals.
D. Collon (ed.), 7000 years of seals-1 (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)