Sumer is the earliest known civilisation in the historical region of Mesopotamia, settled by humans circa 4500-4000 BC, founded in the region of the Fertile Crescent. Their control of the region lasted for around 2000 years, before the Babylonians settled in 2004 BC.
Mesopotamia was the cradle for glyptic arts. Cylinder seals, featuring zoomorphic-decorated knobs and finely engraved religious scenes, first appeared in the Uruk period (ca 3500-3000 BC). Images seen on the Old Babylonian cylinder seals bear great resemblances to the earlier prototypes of the preceding dynasties. Deities, humans, animals, plants, geometric shapes and religious iconography have all appeared on seals. Cylinder seals were used to roll authenticating seals to officiate or notarise a document, usually on wet clay. Seals were hugely important in the ancient world for administration and commerce, they allowed for official legal transactions and the establishment of efficient bureaucracy. While they were important official objects, they were also worn as jewellery and amulets, thought to be in part as a way to have the seal constantly conveniently available to its owner. Haematite was a common material for cylinder seals, along with obsidian, steatite, lapis lazuli, amethyst, and carnelian.
To find out more about cylinder seals, please see our relevant blog post: Mesopotamian cylinder seals.