- Museum number
Black marble cylinder seal; divided into three panels with three deep vertical indentations. Squatting figure over pots. Figure with raised hands squats beneath pot below a smaller squatting figure. Figure squatting above a spouted and high-handled vessel.
Diameter: 20 millimetres
Height: 21 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- "Treasures of the World's Cultures: The British Museum after 250 Years" catalogue entry
D Collon, First impressions: cylinder seals in the Ancient Near East (London, The British Museum Press, 1987)
Cylinder seals were used in the Ancient Near East from about 3400 BC for over three thousand years. They were, as their name implies, cylindrical, generally made of stone and carved with a design in intaglio so that when they were rolled out on clay they left a continuous and repeating design in relief. Generally they were perforated longitudinally so that they could be worn round the owner's neck or wrist, or fastened to a pin attached to his or her garment. The cylinder seal was particularly adapted to use in Mesopotamia (now Iraq and north-eastern Syria) where clay was plentiful and where the cuneiform system of writing on clay tablets developed.
The seals are illustrated by their modern impressions and it is these which are described, generally from left to right. Dimensions are those of the height x diameter of the seal.
Cylinder seal depicting a woman and vessels
Iraq, Jemdet-Nasr style, about 3100 BC
2.1 x 2.0 cm
Purchased in 1907
The design is divided into three panels by deep vertical grooves in the seal's surface. It depicts three women with both hands raised, seated on the ground facing left. Their hair hangs down their backs in a pigtail. Below two of them are pairs of vessels of different types, some with handles or spouts; in front of the third woman is a pot and below her is a small, seated, pigtailed figure facing right with hands lowered.
It has been suggested that seals of this distinctive squat type were used to seal materials such as textiles or pottery which were manufactured by women. A much larger type of seal in a different style was used in the same period by the temple administration to seal store-rooms. Impressions made by these seals would immediately have identified the two administrations concerned. Thus, by this early date, a sophisticated administrative tool was already in place.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2009 11 Dec-2010 10 May, Madrid, Canal de Isabel II, Treasures of the World’s Cultures
2009 1 May-20 Sep, Victoria, Royal BC Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2007 14 Sep-2 Dec, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2007 3 Feb-27 May, Taipei, National Palace Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2006 18 Mar-4 Jun, Beijing, Capital Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2005 27 Oct-2006 31 Jan, Haengso Museum, Keimyung University, Daegu, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2005 25 Jul-8 Oct, Busan Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2005 11 Apr-10 Jul, Seoul Arts Centre, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2004 26 Jun-29 Aug, Niigata Bandaijima Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2004 10 Apr-13 Jun, Fukuoka Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2004 17 Jan-28 Mar, Kobe City Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2003 18 Oct-14 Dec, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
1998 9 Feb-3 May, India, Mumbai, Sir Caswasjee Jahangir Hall, The Enduring Image
1997 13 Oct-1998 5 Jan, India, New Delhi, National Museum, The Enduring Image
- Edges chipped, and some surface scratches (2006 condition report).
- Acquisition date
- Middle East
- BM/Big number
- Registration number