Unit Book A16
A16 Syntetic View / Typology / Objects

Glyptics from Unit A16

Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati – November 2005

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A stone seal

A16.44 is partially eroded by a calcareous corrosion. and has incised geometric patterns.

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The sealings as objects

A small number of seal impressions were found in A16 and all of them came from secondary depositions, more than likely brought up into the later strata by later pit digging activities. The original seals were used to seal containers as is shown by the impressions on the reverse which contain impressions of cord, a peg, and in some cases impressions of cloth or leather. The containers were usually jars, baskets, boxes and sacks, and some door sealings. The opening of the container was first covered with either cloth or leather; this was then tied on with cord; the knot of the cord was in turn covered with mud and a cylinder seal was rolled on it. The seal design was originally carved in the negative and this is why we find the impressions in the positive. From the excavations we have the mud sealing that remained after the opening of the containers. This mud sealing was no longer important and could be discarded. That is why the impressions we find are so often incomplete.

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All the A16 sealings have unusual design elements for this period. In fact it should be stressed that creative inventiveness in design is one of the characteristics of the Urkesh seals from all excavation units. Two of the scenes from A16 are animal contest scenes, very common in this time period (i117, q834.1). In each case an unusual element is added at the end of the scene; in i117 it is a palm tree. Palm trees are not common in the landscape of northeastern Syria today nevertheless we know from our paleozoological studies that the environment in our area contained many more trees in antiquity. Palm trees are one of the symbols of the goddess Ishtar in our seal impressions, reflecting her connection with the idea of fruitfulness and plenty. The second contest scene (q834.1) contains a reversed animal behind the main hero with a long dagger. This animal may be placed there to separate the two humans. On the other hand, we may interpret it as connected with the hero with the dagger. If this is indeed the case, he then would be fighting two animals at once. In the Early Dynastic period this type of scene does occur but it had gone out of fashion by Akkadian times. This possibility points up another characteristic of the style of the Urkesh seal impressions; the seal carvers could deliberately pick a style or design elements from earlier periods (sometimes hundreds of years earlier) to incorporate into their compositions.

Atypical also is the seal impression with two registers (i136). The upper register contains a banquet scene where the principal figure is seated before a banquet table with a standing attendant beyond. While banquet scenes of this type were common in the Early Dynastic period, again they had gone out of fashion by our period. The seal cutter to “update,” as it were, the scene added a lower register with a very well organized row of birds and flowers. The use of the double register composition to stack up figures in the scene is found in the Kultepe seal impressions in Anatolia but these seal designs are usually not carved in this style where the figures are few and evenly spaced as if they were single elements in a border ancillary to the message of the main scene.

The scene in i108 is extraordinary. The sun god is seated on the right. We can identify him because of the sunrays coming out of his shoulder. Since he is one of the main gods in the Mesopotamian pantheon we have a large number of seal impressions representing him in Urkesh. In all of his scenes either a subordinate deity or a human attendant stands facing him. What is unheard of is a figure placed in front of him with his back to him! In this case the figure turning his back is a minor deity. We can only conclude that the scene this deity is participating in (which unfortunately we don’t have preserved in our seal impression) was even more important than serving our sun god Shamash!

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