Cylinder seals from Mesopotamia
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Cylinder seals from Mesopotamia

The cylinder seals were used from the 3rd millennium BC in Mesopotamia for authenticating the cuneiform documents (tablets and bullae, that is lumps of clay that sealed doors or closures of objects), usually representing a sort of endorsement of the officer in charge of the operation in question (initialling a tablet as witness, sealing the closure of the door of a storeroom, affixing one's seal to a clay vase as a sign of ownership, etc.).

Often made of precious or semi-precious stone, such as steatite, andesite, lapis lazuli, cornelian, but also in bone, ivory and, in particular cases of wood, they were engraved with mythological, symbolic, ritual or schematic images. Glyptic is therefore in Mesopotamia and in the nearby regions a typical and characteristic area of figurative art, and, because the seals were commissioned by members of the state body, they demonstrate the very high artistic level achieved by the Palatine engravers. The historical development of Mesopotamian glyptic makes it possible to follow the evolution of the themes represented in the seals. The selection exhibited illustrates the late Uruk - Persian age periods (3300-333 BC).