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Leaving an Impression: Revealing the Intricate Story of Sumerian Cylinder Seals

Thursday, March 9, 2017 12:01
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Leaving an Impression: Revealing the Intricate Story of Sumerian Cylinder Seals

A cylinder seal is a small cylindrical object with images, words, or both, engraved onto it. Sumerian cylinder seals would be rolled over wet clay to make an impression. When the clay dried, a seal would be formed. These seals were used for a number of different purposes in Sumer, including for the transaction of business, decoration, and correspondence. Sometimes the images presented on the seal could be quite complex and beautiful. Cylinder seals were used by various cultures in the ancient Near East, including the Sumerians, Akkadians, Hittites, and Persians.

Materials and Uses of Sumerian Cylinder Seals

According to some scholars, cylinder seals were first used in Syria between the 8th and 7th millennium BC. Others, however, disagree, arguing that they were invented in Sumer (in modern Iraq) around the 4th millennium BC. Some scholars have argued that stamp seals preceded cylinder seals, whilst others propose that the two were used contemporaneously.

Sumerian cylinder seals were usually made of stone (both common and semi-precious stones), such as amethyst, obsidian, hematite, and lapis lazuli (preferred for the beauty of the blue stone). Nevertheless, other materials, including glass, ceramics, gold, silver, wood, bone, and ivory, have also been used to produce these objects in the ancient world. – Reconstructing the story of humanity’s past


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