Time Capsules of History-Ancient Seals and Stamps

By looking into ancient seals and stamps we can understand that security and authenticity were the concern in ancient times as well. Kingdom and individuals were equally aware of their reputation.

The way seals and stamps have been recovered from the excavation of ancient sites from Mesopotamia to Indus Valley, one thing is very clear that our ancestors were very conscious about security and authenticity. Stamps and seals were used in administrative and non-administrative purposes. This system was generally an essentially implicit association with personal or corporate identity and administration. Each seal can be considered as a time capsule to understand what sorts of motifs and styles were popular during the lifetime of the owner. However, sometimes seals are used as an amuletic and talisman also in society. Few ancient seals and stamps are listed down.


Indus Valley Civilization Seals

Pashupati Seal

The Pashupati Seal is an ancient steatite seal that was discovered at the Mohenjo-Daro archaeological site of the Indus Valley Civilization. The seal depicts a seated figure that is possibly tricephalic (having three heads). The man has a horned headdress and is surrounded by animals. He may represent a horned deity which might be Vedic deity as well. It is purported to be one of the earliest depictions of the Hindu god Shiva (“Pashupati”, meaning “lord of animals”). The seal was uncovered in 1928-29.

Unicorn seal

The unicorn is the most common motif on Indus seals and appears to represent a mythical animal. A relatively long inscription of eight symbols runs along the top of the seal. A collar or additional folds encircle the throat. In front of the unicorn is a ritual offering stand with droplets of water or sacred liquid along the bottom of the bowl. This was discovered by Marshall 1931.

Other Seals

LMLK seals

LMLK seals (with LMLK meaning ‘of the king’) are ancient Hebrew seals stamped on the handles of large storage jars. These stamps were first issued in the reign of King Hezekiah (circa 700 BC) and discovered mostly in and around Jerusalem. Several complete jars were found in situ buried under a destruction layer. While none of the original seals have been found, many impressions made by at least different seal types have been found.

Cylindrical Seal

In ancient Mesopotamia carved or engraved cylinder seals in stone or other materials were used. These could be rolled along to create an impression on clay (which could be repeated indefinitely) and used as labels on consignments of trade goods, or for other purposes.

They are normally hollow and it is presumed that they were worn on a string or chain round the neck. Cylindrical seal system was highly used in Mesopotamia in the ancient time. The first Cylindrical seal was invented in ~3500 BC in Near East, at the contemporary sites of Uruk in southern Mesopotamia and they were throughout used until 5 BC.

Each seal can be considered as a time capsule to understand what sorts of motifs and styles were popular during the lifetime of the owner. Each character, gesture, and decorative element can be “read” and reflected back on the owner of the seal, revealing his or her social rank and even sometimes the name of the owner.

Mesopotamian cylinder seal

Ur First Dynasty Cylindrical Seal

Other Region Cylindrical Seal

Top – Old Babylonian cylinder seal, c.1800 BCE
Bottom Left – Cyprus seal shows two nude female figures. Each holds a flower,

a symbol of fertility
Bottom Right – This Neo-Assyrian seal shows a ritual with winged protective deities

Mexican Clay Stamp

Perhaps, the slightly different purpose of stamps/seals in ancient Mexico. Stamps used to print patterns on something (perhaps cloth or the human body). There are geometric and abstract motives, monkeys and eagles, stylized versions of Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent, and of other strange figures who may be gods or heroes. These would have been hand made, in a tradition going back some two millennia (2,000 years) before the Aztecs.

Japanese Seal

The King of Na gold seal is a solid gold seal discovered in the year 1784 in Japan. The seal is designated as a National Treasure of Japan. The seal is believed to have been cast in China and bestowed by Emperor Guangwu of Han upon a diplomatic official (envoy) visiting from Japan in the year 57 AD. The five Chinese characters appearing on the seal identify it as the seal of the King of Na state of Wa (Japan), of the Han Dynasty.

Egyptian Scarab Seals

In Egypt, the scarab seals largely replaced ancient cylinder seals early in the 2nd millennium BC and continued as the main type. For Egyptians, the Scarab seal was not only an impression seal: it was also an amulet with images and symbols engraved to protect the owner. Scarabs were used extensively in Egypt, but they became quite popular and produced also outside of Egypt.

Minoan Civilization Seals

Minoan seal-stones are carved gemstones produced in the Minoan Civilization. They have been found in quantity at specific sites, for example in Knossos, Mallia, and Phaistos but not sure about Akrotiri (Santorini). Minoan seal-stones are of small size, ‘pocket-size’, in the manner of a personal amulet.

Minoan Seals

Annaicoddai seal

Annaicoddai Seal is a steatite seal that was found in Annaicoddai, Sri Lanka. Jaffna University team of researchers discovered this site during archeological excavations of a megalithic burial site. The seal contains some of the oldest inscriptions in Tamil-Brahmi mixed with Megalithic Graffiti symbols. It is dated to the early 3rd or late 4th century BC.


Conclusion

By looking into ancient seals and stamps we can understand that security and authenticity were the concern in ancient times as well. Kingdom and individuals were equally aware of their reputation and authenticity. This is the reason seals and stamps were not used by only kings and kingdoms but also used by the individual as well. It is possible that many more types of seals and much older stamps are present and found in the excavation. Above list is just for indicative understanding of ancient seals and stamps

Reference

Minoan seal stone

Cylindrical Seal

Pashupati Seal

https://www.mexicolore.co.uk/aztecs/artefacts/clay-stamps

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_of_Na_gold_seal

https://www.research.manchester.ac.uk/portal/files/54542679/FULL_TEXT.PDF

http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/cylinder-seals#prettyPhoto

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