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Late Bronze Age Seals and Sealings


The many Middle Assyrian seals and sealings unearthed at Tell Sabi Abyad provide an interesting picture of the local practices of administration and storage. So far, 19 cylinder seals made of stone and clay and more than 170 clay sealings have been found. Impressions of seals also occur regularly on cuneiform tablets. The seals depict a variety of scenes of prayer and contest, including gods, goddesses, Mischwesen, heroes, warriors, animals, etc.




There were also seals made in a simple geometrical style. One cylinder seal kept in a jar was in an unfinished state, suggesting that seal cutters were practising their craft at Tell Sabi Abyad. The seals were found in a variety of contexts: on the floor of buildings, in pottery vessels stored in these structures, in refuse layers outside the architecture, and in graves (as part of necklaces worn by the deceased).



This seal is made in the typically Middle Assyrian style. It dates from around 1200 BC. The seal was found in a jar in a workshop. We see a kneeling archer aiming his arrow at a ferocious lion standing on its hind legs. The seal is in an unfinished state. Especially the archer is only partly cut out into the stone.


The sealings, nearly all made of clay (the single exception was made of bitumen), often show impressions of cylinder seals or, rarely, stamp seals. So far, the impressions of 31 different seals in predominantly good Assyrian style have been identified, none of which correlates with one of the seals excavated at the site. Moreover, most of them occur only once.



Seal impression depicting animals in a very simple style. Tell Sabi Abyad, ca. 1200 BC.


The sealings can be divided into two groups: those that sealed doors (and therefore must have been applied at the site itself) and those that sealed portable goods (and therefore probably came from elsewhere). Door sealings occur in two types. One type was used to seal doors which were closed with a rope wound around a stone cylindrical knob. The other type was used to seal doors with ropes wound around a wooden peg, cylindrical or facetted in shape.



This seal dates from the same period as the other two cylinder seals, but it is made in a simple geometrical style. The seal was on the floor of a small building.

The category of sealed portable goods comprised a variety of containers, including pottery jars (closed with a piece of cloth), bags, possibly a basket, and at least two wooden boxes ( on the reverse of one sealing the boards of the box and a knob are clearly visible ). Associated with the box sealings were collections of cuneiform tablets that were probably stored inside the boxes . Only two seals were used for the sealing of both doors and portable objects. The others were used exclusively for the sealing of either doors or portable goods.




This seal was found in a grave, dated from around 1200 BC. The seal shows a scene of prayer with a number of gods with crowns made of horns. Three persons are depicted with a young bull sitting between them. The winged woman – probably the goddess Shaushka – is holding a lance in her left hand and a scimitar in her right hand. She is the wife of Teshup the weather god, who is standing next to her. Teshup with his long locks of hair is wearing a short skirt and holding an axe and a scimitar in his left hand. He has a club in his raised right hand. The young bull belongs to the weather god: it is his emblem. The royal person in the long robe standing in front of the small bull and the two gods is praying with raised hands.




This hematite cylinder seal is out of place at Tell Sabi Abyad. The seal dates from the Middle Bronze Age, around 1700 BC. Tell Sabi Abyad was not inhabited at that time, however. What happened? The seal was found inside a mud brick of a wall in the Middle Assyrian fortress at Tell Sabi Abyad. The seal was in the used clay, and therefore must have come from a place that was also occupied earlier, in the Middle Bronze Age, just like the seal. Apparently the mud bricks that were used to build the fortress were not all manufactured at Tell Sabi Abyad itself. Other people in other places were engaged in the process as well. The seal shows the sun-god, Shamash, with a saw in his hand. A king is depicted reporting to Shamash, bringing an animal for sacrifice. Behind the king we see two figures who assist him in the ritual.