Ancient Cylinder Seals
By Anna Glenn
Four figures sit facing left, arms raised in front. Their bodies are simple L-shapes, made with drill-holes and filled out with a cutting tool; their heads are single drill-holes, with lines hanging down behind representing ponytails. In the spaces between the women are unidentified, circular objects.
The scene on this seal is typical of the “Jemdet-Nasr style,” which appears on seals from regions across the Near East during the late Uruk and the Jemdet-Nasr periods (ca. 3100-2900 B.C.E.). The “pig-tailed women” shown here are a common feature of the Jemdet-Nasr style. They are often shown crouching or seated on platforms or mats, as here, and are usually engaged in domestic work such as weaving or pottery-making. Their tasks have sometimes been interpreted as having a temple context – perhaps illustrating preparations for rituals. The significance of the circular objects between the women is not certain – similar objects appear alongside the “pig-tailed women” in many Jemdet-Nasr style seals, and possibly represent pots or vessels being made by the women.
Collon, Dominique, 1987. First Impressions: Cylinder Seals in the Ancient Near East. London: British Museum Publications.
Merrillees, Parvine H, 1990. Cylinder and Stamp Seals in Australian Collections. Deakin University Archaeology Research Unit Occasional Paper 3. Victoria.
Porada, Edith, ed., 1948. Corpus of Ancient Near Eastern Seals in North American Collections: The Collection of the Pierpont Morgan Library. The Bollingen Series 14 (2 vols.). Washington, D.C.