cylinder seal showing presentation scene

Mesopotamian Cylinder Seals Collection

The Spurlock Museum houses a collection of 59 ancient Mesopotamian cylinder seals. These are small stone cylinders, about an inch tall, with carved designs on their curved surfaces. The seals were rolled along the wet clay of a cuneiform tablet, creating an impression of the design on the surface that acted as the owner's identifying mark, somewhat like the modern signature. The Museum's collection includes seals from as early as 3200 BCE and as late as 450 BCE.

  • blue and white cylindrical seal double the height of 5mm scale
    This conventional photograph illustrates what the following seals actually look like. Persian Period (ca. 520–400 BCE) agate with alternating bands of white and brown, below a section of gray 1900.53.0052A

Imaging the Seals

Our Artifact Imaging Center has a camera that takes flat images of cylindrical surfaces, providing unique, high-resolution photographs of the entire carved designs on the seals. This gallery provides some examples of the 360-degree images so you can get a better sense of the artists' work.

The 15 images below represent a sampling of the 59 objects in the collection. These images were taken using the special process that has enlarged the seals and has "flattened" their cylindrical surface. Traditional photos and other details can be viewed by clicking the number under each image.

  • abstract scene of a person rpeated three times
    Abstract scene of female potter sitting on mat. Jemdet Nasr Period (ca. 3200–3000 BCE) limestone 1900.53.0117A
  • lions jump across several figures
    From left: two lions jump across one another to attack their prey, a goat on the left, a gazelle on the right. To the right are two other animals jumping across each other (the left of this pair directly faces the viewer). The final element is a small calf on its hind legs over a scorpion. Early Dynastic III Period (ca. 2600–2350 BCE) marble 1900.53.0108A
  • fighting animals and two heroes
    Two lions each attack a gazelle. A hero grabs the gazelles away from the lions, while another hero on the right stabs one lion with his knife. Early Dynastic III Period (ca. 2600–2350 BCE) seashell 1900.53.0106A
  • a scene of 7 figures including heroes and animals
    In the center a hero pulls a bull and a cow away from two attacking lions, while on the left a bull-man stabs one of the lions, and on the right a hero stabs the other. Early Dynastic III Period (ca. 2600–2350 BCE) red steatite 1900.53.0104A
  • a seated king and 3 other individuals
    A long-bearded divine king sits on a padded throne. Before him stands a worshiper. Behind the latter stands the presenting goddess Lama. The upside-down figure was carved over the name of the original owner to change the design for the seal's new owner. Isin-Larsa Period (ca. 1900–1800 BCE) hematite with jasper patches 1900.53.0061A
  • relatively sparse design with three figures
    On the left, the sun-god Shamash stands with his foot on a stool that represents a mountain. Before him is the king in his military uniform seeking the god’s blessing. Behind the king is the presenting goddess Lama. Old Babylonian Period (ca. 1800–1600 BCE) hematite 1900.53.0067A
  • goddess, military king, and second goddess
    Here the king in his military outfit stands before Ishtar, the goddess of love and war, with Lama behind him. Old Babylonian Period (ca. 1800–1700 BCE) hematite 1900.53.0069A
  • a goddess, king, and unknown god
    The king stands before Lama, who appears in her standard pose. Behind the king is a god whose identity is not known. Old Babylonian Period (ca. 1800–1600 BCE) limonite 1900.53.0071A
  • King and goddess with three columns of cuneiform
    Seal of Dakia, son of Damiq-ilishu, servant of King Samsu-iluna of Babylon. Here only the king and Lama are present, facing each other. Old Babylonian Period (ca. 1750–1712 BCE) hematite 1900.53.0077A
  • glass-like seal with rough design of goddess, king, and cuneiform
    This nearly transparent seal shows the popular motif of the previous seal—the king standing before Lama. Old Babylonian Period (ca. 1800–1600 BCE) rock crystal 1900.53.0073A
  • brown and black seal with a figure, cuneiform, and other designs
    A worshiper raises his hand toward a cross. In front of him are also a dog and a flower. The inscription is a prayer to the sun god Shamash. Kassite Period (ca. 1400–1100 BCE) red jasper 1900.53.0084A
  • slightly stylized scene of a monster and a hero fighting animals
    From left, a bull-headed creature, perhaps a demon, holds the tail of a griffin (part bird, part lion), while a bull is held by its hind legs by a hero. Cypriot Seal Late Bronze Age (ca. 1600–1050 BCE) reddish hematite 1900.53.0056A
  • highly stylized seal with a person and geometric designs
    A worshiper stands before a sacred tree and a winged sun disc. Neo-Assyrian Period (ca. 900–600 BCE) agate with red hematite areas 1900.53.0097A
  • brilliant light pattern emanating from bottom of seal of three figures
    Agate with alternating bands of white and brown, below a section of gray. A seated figure, probably a magus (Zoroastrian priest), is attended by two other priests. Below the scene, and taking advantage of the white agate to portray sun-beams, is a winged sun-disc, representing Ahura-Mazda. Persian Period (ca. 520–400 BCE) limestone 1900.53.0052A
  • light blue seal with king holding two lions
    A king grasps two winged lions on either side. Persian Period (ca. 520–400 BCE) milky chalcedony 1900.53.0050A