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Cylinder seal and square seal from ancient Mesopotamia

Clay seal project: A cylinder seal and square seal from ancient Mesopotamia

What is a clay seal?

The people of ancient Mesopotamia had many baskets which had been sealed with a special mark pressed into a lump of clay.

More about seals
What is clay?
Bronze Age economy
All our Mesopotamia articles

Why did people use seals?

Government officials marked their property so nobody could steal it. Their neighbors further east in India and west in Greece, from the Early Bronze Age, about 2100 BC, learned to use seals too. By the Qin Dynasty, about 200 BC, people were also using seals in China.

Harappan India
Mycenaean Greece
Qin Dynasty China
More Bronze Age articles

Harappan seal ca. 2000 BC

Clay seal project: An Harappan seal ca. 2000 BC

How can I make a seal?

You can make seals and seal things, just like people did in the Bronze Age. Seals can be made from anything hard enough to mark wet clay (or Play-Dough). Soap is a good choice and easy to carve. If you leave a bar of soap exposed to the air for a week or two it will get harder, but not too hard to carve with a butter knife.

Or you can use Sculpy clay; carve your seal with pencils, and then let it dry.

There are some excellent images of cylinder seals that 9th graders made here:

Be sure to design a seal which is different from anybody else’s!

Now seal something closed!

Get some Sculpey clay on Amazon right now!

Take a box, like a shoebox, and put something in it. Put the lid on. Stick a gob of clay (or Play-Dough) over the join between the lid and the box, to stick the lid closed, and press your seal into it while the clay is still wet, then let it dry.

Or, just put a small object inside a gob of clay, then seal it by pressing your seal on the outside of the clay, and let it dry.

How writing was invented

Now mix yours up with other people’s. Can you tell which belongs to whom, by comparing the seals? What if you were a thief? How would you try to steal this stuff? What problems would you have?

More about seals

Bibliography and further reading about seals and sealings:

Near Eastern Seals, by Dominique Collon (1991). A good introduction for adults.

The Chinese Chop Pack, by Robin Tzannes (2003). About Chinese seals (called chops), and includes some real chops for you to use!

More about seals
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