Mitanni Alabaster Cylinder Seal with a Tête-Bêche Design


A finely engraved Mesopotamian alabaster cylinder seal, carved with decorations divided into two tête-bêche (i.e. inverted in relation to one another) horizontal registers. One of the registers features a bush, under which a human figure sits on the right. Two standing figures, facing away from each other, flank the bush. The one on the left is portrayed with his hand placed above the head of a recumbent zoomorphic figure, possibly a goat or antelope. The figure on the right is depicted with both of his arms raised. The second register presents a seated figure with one arm raised. Behind the throne is a winged zoomorphic figure, possibly a griffin, depicted facing right with its mouth wide open. The seal’s style and subject matter points to it being produced in Mitanni.

The seal is perforated longitudinally for suspension. This piece comes with a professionally baked, modern impression.

Date: Circa 3rd-1st Millennium BC
Provenance: Ex. Cotswold collection, 1980
Condition: Fine condition, the image is clearly incised. There is some earthly residue in the carving and the suspension hole.

In stock

SKU: SK-148 Category: Tags: ,

Mitanni was an empire located in northern Mesopotamia that flourished from about 1500 to about 1360 BC. At the height of its power, the empire extended from Kirkūk (ancient Arrapkha) and the Zagros Mountains in the east through Assyria to the Mediterranean Sea in the west.

The cylinder seal is an ancient Mesopotamian equivalent of a signature, rolled on a variety of objects to prove the authenticity. For instance, seal impressions on cuneiform tablets could identify the writer of the documents. Seals were also believed to have protective properties and are often perforated through the middle to be worn as jewellery or pinned on garments. The images carved onto seals often depict ideas and beliefs fundamental to ancient Mesopotamian culture. Many cylinder seals have survived to modern times due to the durability of the materials used, for example stone, metal and fired clay. Unlike most ancient artefacts, cylinder seals appear almost exactly as they would have looked to the ancient people who used them.

To find out more about Mesopotamian cylinder seals, please see our relevant blog post: Mesopotamian Cylinder Seals—Exploring Glyptic Images

Weight 16.86 g
Dimensions L 4.3 x W 1.3 cm



Reference: For a two-register seal, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, item 1999.325.191 For a similar Mitanni seal, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, item X.304.7

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