CDLN 2014:004
Robert K. Englund: Seals and Sealing in CDLI files

One of the weaknesses of CDLI files has been their limited annotation of entries concerning seals and sealing in ancient Mesopotamia. Some years ago, Christina Tsouparopoulou, then a CDLI research associate at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, entered to a dedicated relational database the records of the seal impressions found on texts from Drehem, ancient Puzrish-Dagan, that had formed the core of her 2008 Cambridge dissertation The Material Face of Bureaucracy: Writing, Sealing and Archiving Tablets for the Ur III State at Drehem. The 601 composite seals (that is, seals reconstructed based exclusively on their use on ancient documents), associated with some 1415 tablets registered in the CDLI catalogue, were described with a series of philological, archaeological and art historical qualifiers that Christina felt were essential to capture the detailed nuances in the (once) physical artifacts. I agreed, and agree, that in particular such elements as those describing the iconography, form, production technology, and practice of use of cylinder seals are essential for their in-depth study; but I had to be realistic, when Christina’s position in Berlin ended, about the amount of resources we would be able to dedicate to a seals catalogue, and I thus decided to streamline it for continuation at CDLI, dispensing with its involved archaeological apparatus. Seals are now entered as any other CDLI artifact, but are treated as composite reconstructions, and, in the case of existing objects, as physical artifacts, though still essentially composites. These two categories are noted as “CDLI Seals n (composite)” and “CDLI Seals n (physical)”, whereby n is a six-digit number that, in ‘S123456’, constitutes an artificial seal ID in our catalogue. It may be noted that specialists such as Rudi Mayr identified many instances of the re-use of the same physical seal. In these cases, each seal generation represents a new artifact, and therefore a new seal ID number with associated witnesses, even where the expert will identify two legends, one under the other, on the same seal.

The major interest, and given the nature of our files, capability of CDLI to contribute to seals research lies in our electronic transliterations and thus in the seals that, beginning in the ED IIIb period with some consistency, combined pictorial and geometric scenes with legends. These framed inscriptions as a rule named the seal owner, his profession or educational standing, his patronymic and, looking up in the Mesopotamian hierarchy, his administrative affiliations. They form a category of CDLI entries not originally envisioned at our conception, namely that of an ethereal composition that is related to the concept of an Urtext, but that in the case of seals‚ and including brick stamps as the first cases of “printing presses,” is grounded in a physical artifact. Mesopotamian cylinder seals, as we know, are found in innumerable collections, with and without owner legends; I personally have no idea how many there are. In the great majority of examplars with legends, the seals themselves appear to be lost, with exceedingly few matches having been made between actual seals and impressions on texts; the lost seals, however, are often fully reconstructable based on one, up to as many as 620 (Umma’s Lukalla = S002932) impressions found on tablets in collections worldwide. More conventional composite texts now, or about to be registered in much the same way in the CDLI catalogue include royal (led by Daniel Foxvog), and, in time, lexical, and literary texts. Our ultimate internal justification for conventionalized composition entries is their use in creating cleaner data sets, since irregularities in basic text entry, lexicon and sign readings, are much more visible when things line up than when viewed individually; but their use in online research will be of greater interest to colleagues and will, hopefully, complement the available resources of the BDTNS (PI Manuel Molina cleansed BDTNS’ seal legends some time ago, and these are searchable as separate entities in his files).

In the past several months then, I have spent quite a bit of my time, with the undying scripting support of Eunice Yuh-Jie Chen, graduate student of UCLA’s Department of Computer Science, trying to remedy this failing, and can refer users to a prelimary CDLI page dedicated to the topic that presents some of the new search capabilities this work has made possible. In our main search page, the field “Seal ID” can be cross-referenced with other fields by typing in “S”, and in full search results pages, seal IDs are listed and color-coded as hyperlinks in the catalogue list to the left of associated images and transliterations; for instance, clicking on the ID S000003 in the entry for AUCT 1, 151, brings the user to a scroll listing of 29 witness texts, headed by their composite entry.. In raw numbers, CDLI catalogue now contains entries documenting ca. 27,550 Mesopotamian artifacts related to seals and sealing: 21,000 represent inscribed tablets whose seal impressions include owner legends; 5,250 are discrete composites derived from these impressions; and currently just 1050 are entered physical seals. As is to be expected, both in terms of its ancient administrative and legal apparatus, and in terms of the open access initiatives embraced since the commencement of data entry by Marcel Sigrist, Bram Jagersma and Remco de Maaijer, substantially furthered by BDTNS, then also by CDLI collaborators, an imposing majority of these entries derive from Ur III texts (26,000 total entries, and 5,100 composites--which can be noted to discussions of literacy and the administrative workforce in this short phase of Babylonian history; these files include the Irisagrig seal legends recently published by David Owen in Nisaba 15). Poorly accessible for harvest, aggregation and re-use have been the files of Old Babylonian, neo-Babylonian and neo-Assyrian specialists. The present work should preface a much larger initiative to order these hallmark administrative tools‚ beginning with a full catalogue of all physical seals, focusing on seals with legends, and then inclusion in CDLI of transliterations of the other big sealing periods, if and when the artifacts and electronic files become available to us.

Eunice’s working interface, scripted out of CDLI’s full C-ATF file dump, was very simple. All identifed seal legends were isolated, duplicate legends merged and written into single, sortable lines in the form:

1. ur-{d}dumu-zi-da 2. dub-sar 3. dumu du10-ga 4. szabra P290877
1. ur-{d}dumu-zi-da 2. dub-sar 3. dumu szesz-kal-la P142190
1. ur-{d}dumu-zi-da 2. dub-sar 3. dumu ur-nigar{gar} kuruszda P135491
1. ur-{d}dumu-zi-da 2. dub-sar 3. dumu ur-nigar{gar} szusz3 P142770
1. ur-{d}dumu-zi-da 2. dub-sar 3. dumu ur-x-... P101851
1. ur-{d}dumu-zi-da 2. dub-sar dumu du10-ga P120454
1. ur-{d}dumu-zi-da 2. dumu szesz-sa6-ga P290674
1. ur-{d}dumu-zi-da 2. lu2 lunga3 3. dumu ur-{d}nin-gal P120729
1. ur-{d}en-gal-du-du 2. dub-sar 3. dumu ur-{d}ba-ba6 4. dumu-ni P274282 P274429
1. ur-{d}en-ki 2. dub-sar 3. dumu a-ad-da-mu P122241 P122242

Casual inspection of the suspect 3rd-5th lines above, and their corresponding associated files in CDLI, suggested that all three could, with some reason, be placed under one entry:

1. ur-{d}dumu-zi-da 2. dub-sar 3. dumu ur-nigar{gar} szusz3 P101851 P135491 P142770,

now = S004859; at the same time, this merge demonstrates the creeping hypercorrections that must be addressed in later stages of this work, since P101851 was a Nippur slave sale contract sealed by an Ur-Dumuzi, but certainly not the son of Ur-Nigar, as in the other two witnesses‚ both from Umma. Such errors have many fathers, but high among them in impact was the fact that, to make things manageable, we removed tags in the transliterations that indicated (occasionally doubtful) text reconstruction.

Expert users will notice many such mistakes and omissions in CDLI seal annotations. But I tend to finish stages of such bulk tasks in the database, and post the results online “to have something to look at.” An initial parsing of text proveniences has demonstrated to me, nevertheless, that the composite entries could, with exceptions of course, assume the same provenience as their witness artifacts. I suspect, further, that exact strings can be interpreted to act in a highly discriminatory fashion to keep discrete seal legends linked to single users, i.e., that the availability of better prosopographical tools will not result in very substantial numbers of differentiations in existing seal identifications. I cannot address the question of whether better iconographic annotations will lead to many such necessary disambiguations in future; probably not, but such legend-duplicates as those of the physical artifacts registered here suggest that we do have a problem. The same iconography issue can be seen in seal impressions. The legend usz-mu / dub-sar / dumu lugal-sa6-ga has in some instances legend cases that are of the same length (P104992, P125183 = S005503), in others with the first two cases short and the last one longer, framing a small figure P118486, P108308, P119870, P120363: human, P101491: a bird, P100596, P102644: a griffin!) standing behind a larger one (= S005502 & S005503, all from Umma).

A few random notes to “CDLI Seals” follow.

As with the earlier general cleansing of CDLI’s Ur III files (CDLN 2011:004), the seals work was not well served by current photo documentation; images recently done by Klaus Wagensonner, for instance of the Ryland texts (compare P130452 hand copy and photo!), have demonstrated the pattern recognition advantages of raking light imaging using digital cameras and RTI scanning technology (I can report on a bridge technique taught me by UCLA graduate student Michael Heinle to improve chances of reading difficult seal impressions: copy the online image to desktop, load in Photoshop and invert the colors). But even old hand copies, or more common flatbed or camera imaging, are a great improvement over nothing at all. It is, for example, common in transliteration publications that two-column legends are listed as a single column; this led to duplication entries that will in future need to be reduced to a single, two-column legend. In another instance, the common ensi2-seal of Ayakalla of Umma is found in sixty examples (both writings a-a-kal-la and a-kal-la) with col. i l. 2 lugal kal-ga, but only in five cases with nita kal-ga; all five cases, however, were edited by Ozaki & Sigrist in BPOA 1 and 7‚ BM and Yale texts‚ with no image documentation. The nita kal-ga entries have been assigned to S005898-S005899 (a-a- and a- versions), but may on inspection turn out to be S000033. Or another still: P113690 is a very poorly written text, with the impression of a defectively cut seal legend; so, an accounting school text with a throw-away seal? We can check the Free Library of Philadelphia image of the seal impression, but the potential matches BPOA 2, 2325, and BPOA 6, 481, are from BM and Yale, respectively, and therefore not subject to online inspection; thus, S005327 may or may not represent the same ancient seal. Though improved by the apparatus of partial hand copies used by recent editors of Istanbul Ur III texts in the series MVN and UTI, the Arkeoloji Müzeleri texts are comparably wanting of image support.

The new entry of seal IDs excluded all or nearly all legends that seemed too ambivalent, i.e., any incomplete legend whose possible reconstructions permitted two or more possibilities among existing entries. These, currently 1652 incomplete seal legends were tagged with the general dummy marker ‘Sx’ to enable new eyes with better analytical tools to locate them later. In one example, P133374 has now

1. lugal-za3-ge-si 2. dub-sar 3. dumu ur-{d}...,
and there are
1. lugal-za3-ge-si 2. dub-sar 3. dumu ur-{d}dumu-zi-da
1. lugal-za3-ge-si 2. dub-sar 3. dumu ur-{d}ig-alim
on file, so P133374’s legend remains among the undetermined seal entries in CDLI. As a second example, take the case of P332279 from Girsu with identified seal legend lugal-{gesz}gigir-re / dub-sar / dumu lu2-{d}gesz-bar-e3; here, P117739 and P141691, both from Umma, have the legend
1. lugal-{gesz}gigir-re 2. dub-sar 3. dumu ... .
While there is only one other option to choose from, it would make little sense to opt for the seal entry from P332279 since it appears to be from another province. Moreover, numerous possibilities for the patronymic of the other two texts exist in the Umma corpus, though currently none identified in CDLI legends (a search for “lugal-{gesz}gigir-re dumu” in CDLI results in giri3-ni, szesz-kal-la, lugal-ma2-gur8-re-ke4, bar-ra-an, ur-{d}isztaran, lugal-nig2-lagar-e, ur-sukkal, ur-li, ur-nigar{gar}, and lugal-kisal, all as fathers listed in the body of the accounts, exclusively in Umma texts).

Distinguishing uszur3 from uszur4, that often correspond to different glyphs in the inscriptions (including uszurx(|LAL2.TUG2|), can be vexing without image documentation; the only clear example of uszurx in a seal legend is i7-pa-e3 / dumu lugal-uszurx(|LAL2.TUG2|) / nu-banda3-gu4 {d}szara2 = S002538.

If “mu-ni,” son of Akalla gudu4 of Nin-ura at Umma, is one person, then he had (at least) four different seals:

1) mu-ni / dumu a-kal-la / gudu4 {d}nin-ur4-ra

4x Amar-Suen 7, 8 & 9, 6x Shu-Suen 1, 2

2) mu-ni / dumu a-a-kal-la / gudu4 {d}nin-ur4-ra

10x Shu-Suen 3

3) mu-ni dub-sar / dumu a-kal-la gudu4

4x Shu-Suen 4

4) mu-ni dub-sar / dumu a-a-kal-la / gudu4 {d}nin-ur4-ra

1x Shu-Suen 9, 18x Ibbi-Suen 1, 3

Archival: 15 January 2014

CDLN 2014:003
Alexandra Kleinerman: A new “Letter to the Generals”

MS 2041 (7.6×5.2×2.3) is a new recension of the so-called “Letter to the Generals.” The standard version of this letter was part of the Old Babylonian Sumerian literary curriculum, and is attested on nine manuscripts from Old Babylonian Nippur, one from Mari and one of unknown provenance. The “Letter to the Generals,” together with 17 other literary letters and four miscellaneous compositions, formed what modern scholars identify as the Sumerian Epistolary Miscellany (SEpM), and which had an established order, at least among the known Nippur schools (Kleinerman 2011: 21-2). I offer here a transliteration and translation along with a brief commentary of the new version of this letter. A hand copy will be published by K. Volk (forthcoming).

MS 2041: ...
 1.šagina-e-ne(To the) generals
 3.mdu-du nu-banda3-gu4(Thus) Dudu, the overseer of oxen
 5.gu2 i7buranunki‘The bank of the Euphrates
 6.<<i7>>tum-ma-al-še3towards Tumal
 7.u3 KA-ku5 mah-eand at the great flood control reservoir dug.
 9.a zi-daBut the flood waters
 10.1 1/2 kuš3 im-ma-zirose to 1 1/2 cubits.
 12.AN? x nu-ub-ta-e3-a(the sun?) does not come out
 13.[erin2(?) n]u-ni-gub-be2-e[the troops?] will not stand against it.
 3.šar2-gal GAN2-a mu-na-tum210,800 iku of land has already been carried away!
 4.ša3 1(bur3) GAN2 90 gur i3-gubOf 1 bur, only 90 gur (of grain?) remains.
 5.3(u) guru7 he-ni-dub-eMay you pile it up in 30 heaps!
 6.a la-ba-ab-de2-eDo not let the water pour out!’


Obv. 3: mdu-du, nu-banda3-gu4, is unattested in the Ur III corpus. In SEpM 11 the letter is from a šabra, a high ranking temple or household administrator.

Obv. 6: It is uncertain whether i7 is a scribal error based on line 5 (the interpretation followed here), or was intended to refer to the “Tumal canal” (i7 tum-ma-al), for which there are only limited archival references (e.g. SAT 3, 1845). The use of the geographic determinative, ki, is inconsistent in Ur III administrative texts, and so its absence does not pose a problem here.

Obv. 7: KA-ku5, in place of naĝ-ku5, is one of many scribal errors in this text.

Obv. 8: The verbal base appears to be a reduplicated form of the sign DUN written in a rather cursive fashion (see Mittermayer 2006: no. 438 dealing with similar sign forms). The verb dun, “to dig,” occurs several times in Sumerian literary compositions. In Pabilsag's Journey to Nippur (ETCSL 1.7.8), for instance, the gods does digging work (nam-dun) in the meadows of Isin.

Obv. 9: The use of zi(d), “to be right, true,” is an orthographic variant for zi(g), “to rise,” (see the score in Kleinerman 2011: 261 with a-zi-ga in manuscripts N58, N85 and N94).

Obv. 12: One expects here the divine name dutu, but the second sign does not appear to be the sign UD.

Obv. 13: The restoration is based on the parallel line in SEpM 11: šar2-šar2 erin2 ugu-ba nu-ub-gub, “not even 7,200 troops will stand against it.”

Rev. 1: According to SEpM 11, line 16 should follow line 13. Thus, it is not possible at this time to restore line 14.

Rev. 2: Perhaps to be restored according to SEpM 11. However, in SEpM 11 this line follows our line 16.

Rev. 4: Lines 17 and 18 are not present in SEpM 11.

Rev. 5: Although it is tempting to see these as units of measurement, 1 guru7 is equivalent to 3,600 gur (Powell 1987-1990:497). It would be impossible to pile 90 gur of grain into 30 piles of 3,600 gur! For he(HI)- as a variant of he2- see Šulgi P Seg. C 37, Samsu-iluna B 22, and Samsu-iluna E 37.


Overall, MS 2041 presents a version of SEpM 11 with many mistakes and the addition of new lines. This is in contrast to the other eleven attested versions of the letter, which are remarkably consistent. In fact, the majority of SEpM tablets do not deviate, even those that come from outside Nippur. Nevertheless, the collection is a Nippur phenomenon and the order of the compositions attested at Nippur is not attested elsewhere (Kleinerman 2011: 21-2). Conversely, there are a number of Sumerian literary letters only preserved on tablets found outside Nippur (Kleinerman 2011: 8 fn. 41).

In light of this, the presence of alternate versions of Nippur texts should not come as a surprise. Indeed, the existence of variant recensions fits well with our current understanding of the advanced Sumerian literary curriculum in Old Babylonian schools. Although by the OB period there was certainly a well established corpora of Sumerian teaching texts, individual teachers chose which to teach and the order of study. This is clear not only across southern Babylonia but within Nippur as well. In the case of MS 2041, however, it is unclear whether the teacher taught this divergent recension or the student simply improvised.


Civil, M.
1994 The Farmer's Instructions. Barcelona: Editorial AUSA.
Kleinerman, A.
2011 Education in Early Second Millennium BC Babylonia: The Sumerian Epistolary Miscellany. CM 42. Leiden: Brill.
Mittermayer, C.
2006 Altbabylonische Zeichenliste der sumerisch-literarischen Texte. OBO Sonderband. Fribourg: Academic Press.
Powell, M.
1987-1990 “Masse und Gewichte.” RLA 7: 457-517.
Volk, K.
forthcoming Sumerian Literary Texts from the Schøyen Collection I. CUSAS XX. Bethesda, MD: CDL Press.

I would like to thank Mr. Martin Schøyen and the Schøyen Collection for permission to publish the tablet, Profs. K. Volk and A. George for arranging for my work in the collection, and Profs. George, D.I. Owen as well as K. Wagensonner for their suggestions.

Archival: 15 January 2014

CDLN 2014:002
Zsombor Földi: The Sad Story of a Sumerian Statue: The Destruction of Šū-Suen 7

In January 1958, the Oriental Institute Nippur Expedition discovered a door socket (exc. no. 6N-351) in the main gate of Inanna’s Parthian level temple (L II, locus SB 53, see Civil 1989: 60). It was recognized to have been used formerly as a grinding stone, and turned out to have originally been the pedestal of a diorite statue, bearing the remains of a dedicatory inscription of Šū-Suen (RIME 3/, foll. Frayne 1997). Some 44 years later, a piece of this socle has been offered for sale—and has been sold—at a London auction. This short paper aims to demonstrate the misfortune of this extraordinary object.

The present author is especially indebted to John Russell for kindly providing the colour original of the image published in his book and a permission to publish it. The collegial help of an unnamed specialist of Bonhams, who was kind enough to send a high-resolution original of the photo published in the auction catalogue, is gratefully acknowledged. Both images are included in the composite one which is made available at CDLI.

Door socket

Fig. 1:   6N-351 (Šū-Suen 7)

The diorite pedestal under discussion is unique for it offers a rare example of inscriptions, which are known both from the original statues, and from clay tablets copied in ancient times (cf. Sallaberger 1999: 12715, 169 and Radner 2005: 106-107, 2441225). Several statues—especially Old Akkadian ones—are known to us only from descriptions written by Old Babylonian scribes, who copied the inscriptions, sometimes giving their exact location on the statue as well (cf. Edzard 1980: 64-65, Braun-Holzinger 1991: 281-290, Radner 2005: 244-250 and Hallo 2006: 188-191). As for the Šū-Suen 7 inscription, it has been preserved on a Nippur tablet (see Frayne 1997: 314 with earlier literature, add Krebernik apud Attinger 2002: 130, 134 and Wilcke 2002: 295-296), containing textual parts of Šū-Suen’s other statues (see most recently Suter 2010: 329-330) as well. From the colophons in this text, we learn that beside the inscription on the socle (mu sar-ra ki-gal), another one was situated on the statue’s right shoulder, or perhaps the right side of his back (mu sar-ra zag-zi-da-ni, cf. Braun-Holzinger 1991: 290 and Radner 2005: 118611), which is, of course, not preserved. When archaeologists discovered it, three parts of the socle inscription were still extant, namely lines 2-3 (with Civil 1989: 60, contrary to Frayne 1997: 314, cf. also Neumann 1992: 389+24 and Wilcke 2002: 295), 11-19, and 20-22, the latter two parts being divided by the figure’s left foot.

Although the socle itself was found as early as 1958, it remained unpublished for several decades. It was Miguel Civil (1989: 60-61, 64) who edited the text and published a photograph of it (see also Braun-Holzinger 1991: 288 Abb. 4), which appears to have been taken at the excavation site. Its later whereabouts are not known (cf. Braun-Holzinger 1991: 275, Frayne 1997: 314, Braun-Holzinger 2007: 138). Surprisingly, it was found and photographed by John Russell (1998: 206 and 241, no. 231) in a storehouse at Nineveh in 1989, probably in May (pers. comm. 05.10.2013). Alongside with it he also found several other artefacts of varied origins, a number of which he recognized later as they appeared on the antiquities market between 1989 and 1998 (Russell 1998: 240-241).

The next appearance of the object under discussion is dated to as late as the 7th November 2002, when a piece of this pedestal—bearing lines 11-19 only—was offered for sale at a Bonhams auction in Knightsbridge (London), listed as no. 206. To judge by the new damage visible on the new photograph (Bonhams 2002: 72-73), the looters or dealers tried to cut out the inscribed part with a chisel but finally used a circular saw. This practice was widely applied over the past two decades, especially in the case of stamped clay bricks, because of their relatively small inscriptions in relation to their original measurements (see Brodie 2011: 125-126 on the so-called Nebuchadnezzar Larsa bricks with clear saw marks).

In the Bonhams catalogue, the following description of this object was given:

A section of black stone inscribed in Sumerian
Third Dynasty of Ur, circa 2038-2029 B.C.
Containing nine fully or partly preserved lines of a royal text of Shu Sin, fourth king of the Third Dynasty of Ur, translating, ']…[….] the monthly… in the temple of Enlil and Ninlil, Shu-Sin, beloved of Enlil, the king whom Enlil chose as the beloved one of his heard […..', 9¼ x 5¼in. (23 x 13.5cm.), in a presentation box with gold embossed spine (Bonhams 2002: 72)

The estimated value was £4,000-6,000; the hammer price went as high as £7,500. As usual, the names of neither the seller nor the buyer have been made public. According to the auction catalogue, the object was “formerly in a European private collection” (Bonhams 2002: 72), more specifically, in the possession of an “UK collector” (courtesy of a Bonhams specialist, pers. comm. 05.12.2012). To judge by the translation, the one who made the description appears not to have been aware of its real provenance, and also not to have known the Šū-Suen 7 inscription (cf. lines 11-12, which have been left untranslated), although the Nippur copy’s corresponding part was published well before.

To draw conclusions, it seems reasonable to suppose that the pedestal was originally left in some Iraqi museum or excavation building—note that even Civil (1989: 60) took measurements from the photograph—from which it was brought to Nineveh, and after that stolen and smuggled to Europe. In fact, it appears never to have been given an accession number, and is commonly referred to by excavation number. Consequently, it is particularly difficult to determine the exact date of the theft. The object is not referred to in any official inventory of missing artefacts, compiled either after the First or after the Second Gulf War. Most probably it was stolen from the Nineveh storehouse sometime in the early 1990s.

Whenever it occurred, the sale could have been stopped by enforcing the international laws protecting cultural heritage (see Brodie 2008: 41-43, 48-49 and 2011: 117-120), or failing all else, the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, which was accepted by the UK on the 1st August 2002 (see UNESCO homepage), i.e., three months before the auction.

Although the first steps in the destruction of Šū-Suen’s statue took place in antiquity, the piece of the socle remained almost intact until its theft from an Iraqi storage facility. Needless to say, it was the ever increasing demand for antiquities which facilitated this event and, though indirectly, also the further destruction of a unique piece of cultural heritage. More rigorous inquiries by the auction house, including consultation with Assyriologists familiar with the corpus of Sumerian royal inscriptions, might have prevented this sale, which resulted in a substantial profit for the seller, thus facilitating similar events for the future. Now it is our responsibility to prevent them.

Attinger, Pascal

2002Review of Frayne 1997. ZA 92, 124-134.

2002 Antiquities. Thursday 7 November 2002 [auction catalogue]. London: Bonhams.
Braun-Holzinger, Eva Andrea

1991Mesopotamische Weihgaben der frühdynastischen bis altbabylonischen Zeit. HSAO 3. Heidelberg: Heidelberger Orientverlag.

Das Herrscherbild in Mesopotamien und Elam. Spätes 4. bis frühes 2. Jt. v. Chr. AOAT 342. Münster: Ugarit-Verlag.
Brodie, Neil J.

“The Market Background to the April 2003 Plunder of the Iraq National Museum.” In P. G. Stone and J. Farchakh Bajjaly, eds., The Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Iraq. Heritage Matters: Contemporary Issues in Archaeology 1. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, pp. 41-54.

“The Market in Iraqi Antiquities 1980–2009 and Academic Involvement in the Marketing Process.” In S. Manacorda and D. Chappell, eds., Crime in the Art and Antiquities World. Illegal Trafficking in Cultural Property. New York etc.: Springer Science+Business Media, pp. 117-133.
Civil, Miguel

“The Statue of Šulgi-ki-ur5-sag9-kalam-ma, Part One: The Inscription.” In H. Behrens, D. M. Loding and M. T. Roth, eds., DUMU-E2-DUB-BA-A. Studies in Honor of Åke W. Sjöberg. OPKF 11. Philadelphia: The University Museum, pp. 49-64.
Edzard, Dietz Otto

“Königsinschriften A. Sumerisch.” RlA 6, 59-65.
Frayne, Douglas Ralph

Ur III Period (2112–2004 BC). RIME 3/2. Toronto – Buffalo – London: University of Toronto Press.
Hallo, William Wolfgang

“Another Ancient Antiquary.” In A. K. Guinan et al., eds., If a Man Builds a Joyful House. Assyriological Studies in Honor of Erle Verdun Leichty. CM 31. Leiden – Boston: Brill, pp. 187-196.
Neumann, Hans

Review of R. Kutscher, Royal Inscriptions. The Brockmon Tablets at the University of Haifa. Haifa – Wiesbaden: Haifa University Press – Harrassowitz Verlag, 1989. OLZ 87, 385-392.
Radner, Karen

Die Macht des Namens. Altorientalische Strategien zur Selbsterhaltung. Santag 8. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.
Russell, John Malcolm

The Final Sack of Nineveh. The Discovery, Documentation, and Destruction of King Sennacherib’s Throne Room at Nineveh, Iraq. New Haven – London: Yale University Press.
Sallaberger, Walther

“Ur III-Zeit.” In P. Attinger and M. Wäfler, eds., Mesopotamien. Akkade-Zeit und Ur III-Zeit. OBO 160/3. Freiburg, Schweiz – Göttingen: Universitätsverlag – Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, pp. 119-390.
Suter, Claudia Elisabeth

“Ur III Kings in Images: A Reappraisal.” In H. D. Baker, E. Robson and G. Zólyomi, eds., Your Praise is Sweet. A Memorial Volume for Jeremy Black from Students, Colleagues and Friends. London: British Institute for the Study of Iraq, pp. 319-349.
Wilcke, Claus

“Der Kodex Urnamma (CU): Versuch einer Rekonstruktion.” In T. Abusch, ed., Riches Hidden in Secret Places. Ancient Near Eastern Studies in Memory of Thorkild Jacobsen. Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, pp. 291-333.

Archival: 15 January 2014

In 1921 Leon Legrain published drawings of 339 seal impressions found on objects recovered during the French missions to Susa. All its shortcomings aside, this publication remains the only comprehensive publication of the proto-Elamite seals. The catalog, briefly introduced on pages 1-2, lists the c. 1000 objects on which these seals were impressed. Unfortunately, a majority of the objects are referred to with numbers that have no clear referent (“1 á 620 : Fragments (fr.) d’argile avec empreintes, provenant de bouchons de jarres, de bulles, et de tablettes proto-élamites inédites.” Legrain 1921: 1).

Seal number 198 from Legrain 1921

Seal number 198 (pl. XII) in Legrain 1921 is of particular interest. Legrain’s reconstruction (according to his catalog from “AO. 512, nos 216, 5012”; but note that MDP 6, 216 does not exist), includes three identical humanoid figures: in the words of Legrain (1921: 51) “trois petits bons-homme, les bras tombants, ou tenant de petits vases”. However, a detailed study of the two best preserved impressions of this seal found on Sb 15229 (included on the photographic plates of MDP 6 with the number 4998, but never published in hand copy) and Sb 15456 (MDP 26 Supplement, 5012), first from RTI images produced in the Louvre Museum (January 2012 by Klaus Wagensonner), and later collation in the Louvre Museum (February 2013) by the author, has shown that these are not humanoid figures at all, but rather inanimate objects arranged together with other objects in a way that suggests a line-up of offerings.

Detail shots derived from RTI image of Sb 15229
Please note: GIF-animated files can be viewed in the online version only!

The object has a slight resemblance to a stylized date-palm with two date-clusters, one on each side. As such it is comparable to a number of similar objects on this and other proto-Elamite seals that appears to represent offerings of produce lined up next to animal figures (see for example Sb 06395 [MDP 6, 206] or Sb 06397 [MDP 6, 240]).

Whereas this correction may seem of minor importance (for the sake of completeness it should be mentioned that Delaporte in his 1920 catalog of the cylinder seals in the Louvre did not identify the shape discussed above as a humanoid, see Delaporte 1920 seal number 344), it is in fact critical in establishing the fact that the glyptic art of the proto-Elamite period was entirely free of depictions of the human body or parts thereof. The only remaining exception known to me is seal number 222-223 in Legrain (number 930 in Amiet 1972). For a discussion of that seal see Dahl 2005: 106-107, suggesting that either (a) it was an heirloom seal as it is found exclusively on tablets that can likely be assigned to the same early strata as Lebrun’s Acropolis 16c, or (b) that it does in fact depict animals rather than humans filling the granary. The seal impressions on Sb 06351 and 06355 were restudied and imaged (RTI) in 2013, and although the general reconstruction of Legrain can be supported it is not clear whether the being on the ladder is human or not (the sealing Sb 02027 has a similar but distinct seal impression depicting humans carrying sacks up a ladder to fill a granary, and it is possible that the reconstruction of seal 222-223 was influenced by this much better preserved seal impression).

The sealing on the bulla Sb 02027

The absence of human form in the glyptic record is mirrored in the writing system where the only two signs that are possibly depictions of human body parts are members of the suite of numerical and non-numerical signs loaned together with the technology of writing in the Uruk V-IV period, namely KURa and SAL.

Legrain’s description of the scene of his seal 198 (1921: 51) suggests that the three humans were shepherds, and identifies the lion hovering in the same register as their enemy. The complete description of the seal in Legrain 1921 reads (my translation):

Pastoral scene. Two large bulls and a goat. In the upper register, three small ‘bon-hommes’, with arms dropping, or holding small vases. They are dressed in tunics and have a large triangular head. In the upper register, a cone-shaped milk vessel and a handled bucket complete the scene. A lion walks with an peaceful air wagging its tail. He is the enemy of the herdsman.

Remembering how high ranking members of the proto-Elamite society were represented by either lions or bulls (see in particular the so-called ruler’s seal found on Sb 02801), and ridding the scene of humans we may be able to read it as a simple representation of offerings of produce (represented by the different vases and baskets in the top register next to the lion) to or by the ruler (represented by the lion), either from a specific institution represented by the bovine family in the lower register (note that the small animal drawn between the bulls is not a goat, but rather a calf), or simply produce obtained from the animals. One of the symbols in the top register is drawn in a distinct way, comparable to the way writing-system signs are drawn in other seals. Although it has no exact match in the writing system it may still belong to that world. That again exemplifies the fluid nature of writing during this formative period, where signs in the writing system could exist as non-writing symbols, and symbols, such as standards or the like, could enter into the writing system as signs for offices or households (Dahl 2012).


Amiet, P.
1972 Glyptique Susienne. 2 vols. MDP 43. Paris.
Dahl, Jacob L.
2005 “Animal Husbandry in Susa During the Proto-Elamite Period.” SMEA 47, 81-134.
2012 “The marks of writing.” Iran 50, 1-11.
Delaporte, L.
1920 Catalogue des cylindres, cachets et pierrres gravée de style oriental du Musée du Louvre. Musée du Louvre. Département des antiquités orientales et de la céramique antique. (Paris : Hachette: 1920).
Legrain, L.
1921 Empreintes de cachets élamites (= Memoires de la Mission Archéologique de Perse 16; Paris, France: Ernest Leroux: 1921).

Archival: 15 January 2014

CDLN 2012:002
Zsombor Földi: The career of a high-ranking official in Larsa: on CUSAS 17, 54