Catalogue of the Western Asiatic Seals in the British Museum. Cylinder Seals IV. The Second Millennium BC (continued from Cylinder Seals III.)

Pink chalcedony cylinder sea. Shamash seated before a sun disc. From Mesopotamia. Kassite dynasty, about 1400-1300 BC

Project leader: Dominique Collon

Department: Middle East

Project start: 1980s

End date: est. 2009

Other British Museum staff: Margaret Sax

Other departments: Conservation and Scientific Research

Description:

This research project will result in the publication of the last of the six catalogues of the British Museum’s cylinder seal collection. In it will be published some 450 cylinder seals covering the whole of the second millennium BC, but excluding the Isin/Larsa and Old Babylonian seals which were published by D. Collon in Volume III (1986). It will therefore include the following categories: Old Assyrian, Cappadocian, Old and Classic Syrian, Elamite, Kassite, Middle Assyrian, Mitannian, Cypriote, Hittite and various Late Bronze Age styles. Many of the seals have never been published before.

Edith Porada was commissioned to write the volume in around 1980. She had written about a third of the catalogue before her death in 1994. Dominique Collon is now working through the seals, writing, editing and completing the entries, discussions and bibliographical sections, editing and updating Edith Porada’s introductory essays for the different categories and supplying essays where these are still lacking. Margaret Sax (British Museum, Department of Conservation and Scientific Research) has completed the analysis of the materials of the seals. Professor Wilfred Lambert (University of Birmingham, retired) is working on the inscriptions on the seals.

Cylinder seal

Objectives:

This volume marks the completion of the catalogue of one of the world’s best collections of cylinder seals. These small cylinders, averaging around one inch (2.5 cm) high, were carved with varied designs that appear in relief when a seal is rolled out on clay. For over three-thousand years, from about 3500 to 300 BC, clay impressions were used for marking ownership by sealing goods being sent or stored in containers (baskets, jars, etc) and in sealed storerooms, and for witnessing documents written on clay tablets and clay envelopes.

Cylinder seals were invented in southern Iraq or south-western Iran. With the development of writing, their use spread throughout the Near East. The first three catalogues in this series chronicled the development of the seals in ancient Iraq and neighbouring countries from the beginnings until about 1600 BC; the last two dealt with the Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian seals from 1000 BC.

The intricate designs on these beautiful seal stones illustrate not only growing technical expertise, but also the spread of ideas and motifs such as kings, warfare, deities, mythology, animals and hunting, over a huge geographical area.

Impression of seal

Publications:

E. Porada and D. Collon, with contributions by W. G. Lambert and M. Sax, Catalogue of the Western Asiatic Seals in the British Museum. Cylinder Seals IV. The Second Millennium BC (Continued from Cylinder Seals III), (London, British Museum Press, forthcoming)

D. Collon, with contributions by C.B.F. Walker and M. Sax, Catalogue of the Western Asiatic Seals in the British Museum. Cylinder Seals III. Isin/Larsa and Old Babylonian Periods, (London, British Museum Press, 1986)

D. Collon, with contributions by C.B.F. Walker and M. Sax, Catalogue of the Western Asiatic Seals in the British Museum. Cylinder Seals V. Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Periods, (London, British Museum Press, 2001)

P. H. Merrillees with contributions by C.B.F. Walker and M. Sax, Catalogue of the Western Asiatic Seals in the British Museum. Cylinder Seals VI. Pre-Achaemenid and Achaemenid Periods, (London, British Museum Press, 2001)

D. Collon, First Impressions – Cylinder Seals in the Ancient Near East, (London, British Museum Press, 1987, updated 2005)


Images (from top):

  • Carnelian cylinder seal from Kassite Babylonia (about 1365 BC), inscribed with a prayer to the sun god (shown on the seal), dedicated by Sha-ilima-damqa. Seal inscriptions can be very informative, and we know from seals of Sha-ilima-damqa's son and grandson (in Berlin and Thebes in Greece) that they were high officials of the Kassite king Burna-Buriash
  • A seal from the catalogue of the same period (BM ME 22963), and its modern impression (below right)