Mari Cylinder Seal

Cylinder seal, ca. 2200 B.C.E., shell with copper alloy caps, National Museum, Damascus.  

Two types of seals were common in the ancient Near East: stamp seals and cylinder seals. Stamp seals were used to secure correspondence or establish ownership with an embossed pad of clay called a bulla. Stamp seals were often inscribed with the owner’s name or symbol. The rope knot securing hides or cloth or other product would be covered with wet clay, and the seal would be pressed into the clay.

Cylinder seals were used to roll an impression onto a two-dimensional surface, generally a damp clay cuneiform document or envelope.  Cylinder seals were invented around 3500 BC in the Near East in south-western Iran and Uruk in southern Mesopotamia. This seal is from Mari and shows a bearded god sitting on mountain. Two tree goddesses are flanking this central figure at same height or importance.

Cylinder seals and stamp seals were integral part of daily life in ancient Mesopotamia and were used by everyone, from kings to slaves, in the transaction of business and sending correspondence.


A small cylinder, primarily from Mesopotamia, that could be rolled over wet clay to leave a distinctive imprint comparable to a signature.

A city along the Euphrates River.

A region notable for its early ancient civilizations, geographically encompassing the modern Middle East, Egypt, and modern Turkey.

A piece of clay that was stamped by an identifying seal and used to fasten a container shut, thereby keeping the contents private.

The writing system of ancient Mesopotamia, consisting of wedges pressed into clay.

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