The Nippur Seal and Terracotta Collections

The Babylonian Collections of the University Museum

By: Leon Legrain

Originally Published in 1944

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Seals and terracottas are eminently characteristic of the Mesopotamian culture. They are found in all the levels and in all the stages of its development, from the Sumerian to the Arab period. Their use was not limited to Mesopotamia, but extended east and west from India to Syria and Egypt. The seal is a personal mark of identification. With the seals are included their impressions on clay. The collections of seals of Ur and Nippur in the Babylonian Section have been published in several volumes (PBS, Vol. XIV, Culture of the Babylonians from their seals in the collections of the Museum, 1925; Ur Excavations, Vol. II, Archaic Texts, 1935, Vol. III, Archaic Seal Impressions, 1936). Flat cylindrical, cone-shaped and ring seals show a rich variety of scenes and figures, cut in intaglio in shell, marble, hard stones, hematite, semi-precious stones, glaze, frit, etc. Many bear inscriptions, royal and private names, or short prayers. They form the most vivid and extensive illustration of religion, art and mythology, which happily compares with and completes that derived from larger monuments.

The popular, humbler terracotta figurines play the same part compared with the major productions of the sculptor in stone, plaque reliefs, stelae and statues in the round. They are found everywhere, in tombs, in private houses, and in the temples, always in large quantity. Modelled by hand or stamped in hollow moulds, in the round, or only in plaque relief, they reflect in their multiplicity of details the religious inspiration and the daily life preoccupation of the Babylonians at every period of their culture, under the ever-changing political rule. Gods and goddesses, men and women, animals, utensils, toys and furniture, all contribute new details to folklore, history and ethnology. The figure of the nude woman, mother and love goddess, for example, is still the object of many interpretations (cf. PBS, Vol. XVI, Terracottas from Nippur, 1930).

Cite This Article

Legrain, Leon. "The Nippur Seal and Terracotta Collections." Museum Bulletin X, no. 3-4 (June, 1944): 67-68. Accessed July 25, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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