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Work Cylinder seal carved with an elongated buffalo and a Harappan inscription

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Iran

Sceau-cylindre : buffle très étiré et inscription harapéenne

© Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN / Thierry Ollivier

Near Eastern Antiquities
Iran

Author(s):
Herbin Nancie

This cylinder seal, carved with a Harappan inscription, originated in the Indus Valley. It is made of fired steatite, a material widely used by craftsmen in Harappa. The animal - a bull with no hump on its shoulders - is also widely attested in the region. The seal was found in Susa, reflecting the extent of commercial links between Mesopotamia, Iran, and the Indus.

A seal made in Meluhha

The language of the inscription on this cylinder seal found in Susa reveals that it was made in Harappa in the Indus Valley. In Antiquity, the valley was known as Meluhha. The seal's chalky white appearance is due to the fired steatite it is made of. Craftsmen in the Indus Valley made most of their seals from this material, although square shapes were usually favored. The animal carving is similar to those found in Harappan works. The animal is a bull with no hump on its shoulders, or possibly a short-horned gaur. Its head is lowered and the body unusually elongated. As was often the case, the animal is depicted eating from a woven wicker manger.

Trading links between the Indus, Iran, and Mesopotamia

This piece can be compared to another circular seal carved with a Harappan inscription, also found in Susa. The two seals reveal the existence of trading links between this region and the Indus valley. Other Harappan objects have likewise been found in Mesopotamia, whose sphere of influence reached as far as Susa.

The manufacture and use of the seals

Cylinder seals were used mainly to protect sealed vessels and even doors to storage spaces against tampering. The surface of the seal was carved. Because the seals were so small, the artists had to carve tiny scenes on a material that allowed for fine detail. The seal was then rolled over clay to produce a reverse print of the carving. Some cylinder seals also had handles.

Bibliography

Amiet Pierre, L'Âge des échanges inter-iraniens : 3500-1700 av. J.-C., Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1986, coll. "Notes et documents des musées de France", p. 143 et p. 280, fig. 93.
Borne interactive du département des Antiquités orientales.
Les cités oubliées de l'Indus : archéologie du Pakistan,
cat. exp. Paris, Musée national des arts asiatiques, Guimet,
16 novembre 1988-30 janvier 1989, sous la dir. de Jean-François Jarrige, Paris, Association française d'action artistique, 1988, pp. 194-195, fig. A5.

Technical description

  • Sceau-cylindre : buffle très étiré et inscription harapéenne

  • Stéatite cuite

    H. 2.3 cm; Diam. 1.6 cm

  • Fouilles J. de Morgan

    Sb 2425

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Iran and Susa during the 3rd millennium BC
    Room 8
    Vitrine 4 : Importations exotiques à Suse, 2600 - 1700 avant J.-C. Suse IVB (2340 - 2100 avant J.-C.).

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Additional information about the work

Ekta (slide) Louvre/Bruce White (Met. exhibition, 2002)