Tablets and Seal-Impressions

By: E. Burrows

Originally Published in 1930

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The bulk of the material came from one site. The vertical southwestern side of the cemetery excavation showed a well-defined succession of sloping strata containing rubbish thrown down from the old town westward of the cemetery. In several instances the strata so discovered could be correlated with strata within the cemetery excavation. Many of these strata contained tablets and, especially, numerous jar-sealings, i. e., lumps of clay put on the tops of jars, often showing on the under side the impression of the jar, and even of the linen cover and string, and impressed on the upper part with a cylinder seal or other distinctive marking. Eight “seal-impression strata” have been distinguished with greater or less clearness: they are designated s.i.s. i to s.r.s. VIII.

There is evidence that s.i.s. I ran unbroken over the whole main cemetery. If s.i.s. I can be dated we thus have an important terminus ad quem for the chronology of the cemetery. Now a fine jar-sealing from s.i.s. I bears the inscription Mesannipadda,1 the well-known name of the founder of the First Dynasty of Ur [Plate XX, 1]: another gives Nin-tur-nin, already known as the designation of the wife of Mesannipadda [Plate XX, 2].

s.i.s. II and III do not differ much in contents from s.i.s. I. About eighty jar-sealings and a few tablets were recovered from these top strata.

With s.i.s. iv we come to another and much earlier epoch. This, by far the richest stratum, produced 62 tablets and fragments and over five hundred jar-sealings. These objects are similar to the few jar-sealings and the many tablets found in the preceding year in the rubbish wherein were dug the early graves of the cemetery. The contemporaneity of the two groups is also favoured by the stratification. For the terminus a quo of the royal cemetery we have, therefore, the evidence afforded by s.i.s. xv. The date of the tablets found in 1928-29 was discussed in the last report. The material on which to form a judgement is now greatly increased.

The five hundred seal-impressions from s.i.s. iv are exceedingly interesting. They are very similar in a general way, and sometimes in detail, to those found at Susa and published by L. Legrain. The apparent connexion between Ur and Elam, and the correlation of s. r. s. iv with Susa ii, raise important historical and chronological questions.

Many forms characteristic of the present collection are new. The following is a summary account of it. Divinities and heroes are hardly, if at all, represented; human forms are not very common; animals are frequent, especially the antelope, capridae, and the like, and the scorpion. Among more elaborate representations is the remarkable chariot scene [Plate XX, 4], and many impressions showing a cattle-byre or dairy scene like that of the frieze of el-‘ Obeid (Ant. Journ. iv, 342), the gate, however, being barred with three, four, or six bars [Plate XXI, 3]. A large proportion of the designs are linear patterns, geometrical or arabesque, often curiously complicated and ingenious [Plate XX, 3]. Sometimes script signs occur in combination with these decorative patterns. There are besides many impressions which are entirely inscriptions. So far as made out, these contain ideograms of cities: Kish, Adab, perhaps Ur, and frequently Larsa [compare Plate XXI, 2]. Of one inscription many of the signs seem to be otherwise unknown [Plate XXI, 1]. Two or three inscriptions have pure pictographs mingled with the writing signs, for example, the bird in Plate XXI, 2.

Many jar-sealings are stamped with circular impressions, sometimes plain and sometimes having a decorative element—most often a rosette. In many cases, at least, the stamps were made by the ends of the cylinder-seals. Numerous jar-sealings, instead of being impressed by a seal, were scratched or incised with rough markings, or, more rarely, definite signs. Counterparts of certain sealings characteristic of s.i.s. iv have been found recently in an early level at Warka.

s.i.s. v, so far as known, is similar to s.i.s. iv. A pit in the western corner of the site cut three lower strata, s.i.s. vi, vu, vim The writing on the few tablets here found hardly differs from that of 81.8. Iv; but the seal-impressions seem to indicate a more primitive art, and forms characteristic of s.i.s iv are generally absent. Plate XXI, 5, represents a building from this remote period (s.i.s via); and Plate XXI, 4, also s.i.s viii, is the first example of what is provisionally called the leaf-pattern which, with a difference, is exceedingly frequent in s.i.s. iv.

The jar-sealings number in all about six hundred and fifty, without counting the stoppers that were marked otherwise than by seal-impressions. Only one cylinder seal was found in these strata, and that was of clay, unpierced. There were two stamp seals, also of clay.

1The inscription is puzzling: Mesannipadda lugal Kis-ki dam nu-gig =, Mesannipada king of Kish or universal king): [his] wife the hierodule (or husband of the hierodule).

Cite This Article

Burrows, E.. "Appendix." The Museum Journal XXI, no. 2 (June, 1930): 106-107. Accessed February 21, 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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