How Akkadian Cylinder Seals Served As Ancient Signatures (Video)
Akkadian cylinder seals emerged during the fourth millennium BC, coinciding with the dawn of writing. These unique artifacts served dual purposes: safeguarding against unauthorized access to storage jars and functioning as signatures on clay tablets . The reverse carving of these seals left raised impressions, often veiling their full imagery. Rather than the imagery itself, the act of rolling these seals held significance, symbolizing participation in agreements or enclosures. One such seal, currently held at the New York MET, portrays a contest scene featuring two pairs of evenly-matched contestants.
In one pair, a human-headed bull wrestles with a lion, while the other showcases a bearded, nude hero grappling with a water buffalo. An encased cuneiform inscription reads, "Slave of the house of the storm god," suggesting possible subordination. Additional motifs, such as a star and crescent moon, add depth to the composition. This iconography of contest scenes within Akkadian administration symbolized the dynasty's power, embodying a balance between humans, animals, and composite creatures where victory remained elusive. In a region with sparse remnants of its ancient history, these seals provide a tangible connection to the past, offering a compelling glimpse into a world that existed four millennia ago.
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Top image: Mesopotamian cylinder seal. Source: Met Museum / Public Domain.