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AJA Online Publications: Book Reviews

Ancient Near Eastern Glyptic in the


National Gallery of Victoria,
Melbourne, Australia
By Parvine H. Merrillees (SIMA 129). Pp. viii + 103, pls. 34, line drawings 89.
Paul strms Frlag, Jonsered 2001. $27.60. ISBN 91-7081-181-4 (paper).

This study by Merrillees of seals in the material of the seal stone (additional informa-
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, tion on material is provided in a mineralogy
adds yet another publication to the growing appendix that reports the results of X-ray dif-
body of catalogues of Mesopotamian glyptic fraction and energy dispersive spectrometry),
in museum collections and complements her type of engraving, interpretation of the inta-
larger catalogue of seals in Australian collec- glio design, and comparanda for the designs,
tions (P.H. Merrillees, Cylinder and Stamp Seals including both other seals and other artifacts.
in Austrian Collections [Melbourne 1990]). As Drawings of the impressions (not to scale) ac-
noted in the chapter on its history, the National company the catalogue entries, while one-to-
Gallery of Victoria glyptic collection is small, one photographs are located at the back of the
with 30 seals in all, 15 stamps and 15 cylinders, book. The cylinders are illustrated by photo-
acquired in 1929. Fifteen were purchased from graphs of both the seal and a rolled impression;
Bagot, a businessman setting up trade and the stamps, by photographs of the sealing face
transport companies in Mesopotamia, who of the stamp and its impression. Because the
collected the seals from various sources while three-dimensional cylinders are photographed
he was in the region, from 1916 to 1925, and in the same frame as their two-dimensional
who befriended the archaeologists Woolley, impressions, neither is optimally lit, reducing
Mackay, and Sayce. The other 15 seem to have legibility. For the Sassanian stamps, no photo-
been purchased by the museum around the graphs of the seals are included, while there
same time from another source. An evaluator are two photographs of each impression, the
for the purchase remarked that this collection smaller presumably one-to-one and the other
is not outstanding (10), an observation borne an enlargement, although this is not made
out upon perusal of the catalogue. Neverthe- clear. In the chapter on historical context, Sas-
less, it is important for scholarship to have the sanian seal shapes are referenced as can be
American Journal of Archaeology Online Book Review

pieces published. seen (57), but only the impressions and not
Copyright 2006 by the Archaeological Institute of America

Introducing the volume is a brief history of the seals are shown in the photographs. There
the National Gallery of Victoria, which, while is also no photograph of the seal for catalogue
not directly related to the seal collection and number 19.
of more relevance to a history of the founding Within the catalogue, the seals have been
philosophies of museums, may be of interest grouped into six main categories: fifththird
to American readers for the similarities to the millennium B.C. (Late Prehistoric period), con-
motivations of the founders of U.S. museums taining six stamps compared to examples from
around the same time. Following the chapters Turkey, Syria, and northern Iraq; fourththird
Issue 110.3 (July 2006)

on the histories of the NGV and its seal col- millennium (Predynastic Egypt), containing
lection, the seals are presented in catalogue three cylinders ascribed to Dynasty I; third
format. millennium (Middle Bronze Age), containing
The catalogue is ordered chronologically, one cylinder dated to the Late or Post-Akka-
with notations on seal shape, measurements, dian period; second millennium (Middle and
Late Bronze Age), containing seven cylinders seals (e.g., L. Jakob-Rost, Die Stempelsiegel im
including Old Babylonian, Old Assyrian, and Vorderasiatischen Museum [Mainz 1991] nos.
Levantine or Levantine/Mitannian; first mil- 42534).
lennium (Iron Age), containing two stamps Discussions of the animal motifs on the Sas-
(tabloid and faceted), perhaps Levantine and sanian seals are general and made in passing.
Syrian, three Neo-Assyrian/Babylonian cyl- Because there is literature, in some cases rather
inders, and one potentially forged cylinder extensive, on the iconography of these animals,
described as faux-Achaemenid (no. 23); and the discussions could benefit from expansion
thirdseventh centuries A.D. (Sassanian pe- or citation of the literature. The same holds
riod), containing seven stamps. true for the discussion of the rhomboid motif
Some observations on a few of the catalogue in catalogue number 20.
entries follow (by cat. no.): A chapter entitled Historical Context
10. The description of this seal, showing completes the text of the volume but may have
a typical Akkadian bull with winged gate more beneficially preceded the catalogue by
scene, says the seated goddess holds a rope providing background material for the reader
attached to the wing of the gate. From the uninitiated in Mesopotamian glyptic. But the
drawing, however, it appears that the rope is text is not written strictly for the layperson, and
attached to the bulls muzzle, as it is, for ex- despite its broad sweep, presupposes familiar-
ample, in a seal illustrated in Collon, Catalogue ity with the field. Some assertions made therein
of the Western Asiatic Seals in the British Museum, warrant documentation or explication. For
Cylinder Seals II: AkkadianPost-AkkadianUr example, in describing Early Dynastic animal
III Periods (London 1982), no. 183. It is unclear and monster friezes, it is observed that:
why the seal has been dated Late or Post- Juxtapositioned with these seemingly natural
Akkadian, especially since the discussion notes phenomena were other important scenes which
that the scene seems not to have survived the showed in ancient Mesopotamian terms a
growing understanding of the world around
Akkadian period (22).
and an attempt to formalize this comprehen-
14. This cylinder, showing two groups of sion. Possibly the temple and priesthood orien-
figures, one with goddess and male worshiper tation of Mesopotamian city states (compared
and the other with bull-man and Egyptian- to the seemingly more secular situation farther
izing figure flanking a sacred tree, is dated ca. west, as at Ebla) led to the creation of a panthe-
on of deities with their accompanying symbolic
17501650 B.C., Syrian of the Late Old Baby-
representatives. (47)
lonian period, with a notation that the latter
group was possibly carved at a later date than Besides leaving unexplained how animal
the Old Babylonian former group (267). The and monster friezes are representations of
discussion notes that Teissier dates the seal natural phenomena, the comment concerning
to the Late Bronze Age, 16th12th centuries a more secular west demands qualification.
B.C., citing comparisons for the group of the Likewise, in recounting the change in the
bull-man and male figure with Nuzi, Middle presentation scene from seated to standing
Assyrian, and Kassite seals (27). The Mitan- deities, from the Ur III period on, it is written
nian elements are rather clear, including the that gradually the chief personages, divine
presence of the winged disk, which does not and human, were shown in standing position,
appear in Mesopotamia before that period. It approaching or approached by other interced-
American Journal of Archaeology Online Book Review

is not explained, then, why the earlier dating is ing deities and their suppliants with invoking
retained for the seal, doubly perplexing given prayers inscribed at the side of the scenes,
the fact that in the chapter on historical context, intimating a closer relationship between
the seal is placed in the Mitannian period and the human and his god (48). But why this
in a subsequent paragraph it is remarked that change in posture should express a profound
the seal is recut (51). theological development of this nature is not
27. Although some Neo-Babylonian com- analyzed nor is the declaration given further
parisons are cited, the seal is placed in the substantiation.
Sassanian group based on its shape. The lack There are numerous small errors. For ex-
of a photograph of the actual seal makes the ample, the illustration as the top of plate IV,
latter qualifier impossible to comment on, but referred to in the historical context chapter,
the seal design (stylized tree? altar and star?) is incorrectly cited as plate I. number 1 (no
finds closer parallels among Neo-Babylonian such illustration exists); the photographs of
and Neo-Assyrian than among Sassanian catalogue numbers 21 and 22 are reversed in


the plates; the Chronological Table following in some way to the broader understanding of
the text is based on Ehrichs 1965 Chronologies the ancient Near East, and forces older assump-
in Old World Archaeology (but see the 3rd ed. tions to be revisited and modified. The volume
[1992]); and P.O. Harpers volume is incor- under review provides such an opportunity
rectly cited in the text and bibliography under and is welcomed by scholars in the field, espe-
O for Oliver Harper. cially those of glyptic, who can now augment
Small details and cavils aside, the impor- their compendia and comparanda.
tance of this volume to the documentation of
Mesopotamian glyptic cannot be understated. Erica Ehrenberg
With collections of seals dispersed around the american institute for iranian studies
globe, it is vital that they be made accessible 118 riverside drive
in published formats, especially the smaller new york, new york 10024
collections that are otherwise overlooked. aiis@nyc.rr.com
Each new artifact that is brought to light adds
American Journal of Archaeology Online Book Review