Cylinder Seals

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    THE cylinder seal is the typical product of the civilization of those countries and periods where cuneiform writing was employed, as is the scarab in Egypt or the coin on Roman sites. Invented at some period well before 3000 B.C., at the end of what is now called the Uruk period, in the land of Sumer, by men who had already begun to write, it spread wherever writing on clay with impressed signs was adopted. During the long ages which preceded its final disappearance, when Alexander conquered the East, roughly some three thousand years, this type of seal was employed at different times in Elam and Persia, in Anatolia, Syria and Palestine, in Cyprus and the Aegean islands. In Egypt, too, the shape was common at an early date, and it has long been a subject of debate whether its use there was borrowed from Mesopotamia or independently invented; Prof. Frankfort is now able to show, in his fourth chapter, that some cylinders from Egypt actually must have been importations from Sumer in the Jamdat Nasr period, which followed the invention of the type in Sumer, and that those Egyptian seals which show no trace of foreign influence, when placed beside those that do, point to the way in which a foreign idea can be borrowed and developed independently. Later, the cylinder seal lost its popularity in Egypt, perhaps owing to the practice of writing on papyrus, and occurs only sporadically, though occasionally examples of true Babylonian cylinders, imported, occur.

    Cylinder Seals

    A Documentary Essay on the Art and Religion of the Ancient Near East. By Prof. H. Frankfort. Pp. xlvii + 328 + 47 plates. (London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1939.) 42s. net.

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    Cylinder Seals. Nature 143, 999–1000 (1939) doi:10.1038/143999a0

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