Monday, November 16, 2009
Abu Dhabi seal reveals ancient past
A 5,000-year-old cylinder seal points to ancient Arabian trade, archaeologists say.
In the current Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy journal, Holly Pittman of the University of Pennsylvania and Daniel Potts of Australia's University of Sydney detail last year's discovery of the cylinder seal, the oldest one found in Arabia, on a barren sand dune in Abu Dhabi.
"Seals were used to make an impression on a soft substance like clay that was put around or over the mouth of a storage jar, or on clay that was put around a door lock, or on a cuneiform tablet, in each case to signify the ownership of the goods or the identity of the seal-user," Potts says. In this case, the mystery seal derives from Uruk, a bronze age civilization in modern-day Iraq that saw the development of cuneiform writing. "Some seals were very individual and recognizable, whereas this one belongs to a well-known type," Potts says, with carvings of spiders and women likely a visual pun, pointing to cloth from a weaving factory.
How the seal arrived on a barren dune, "really it's impossible to say," Potts adds, "though I am sure it arrived in antiquity." The seal might have arrived with ancient Sumerian merchants, or it might have arrived millennia later "perhaps used as a bead or exotic trinket," says the study, and lost to mischance.
"If the Abu Dhabi seal was not transported to its final resting place thousands of years after its manufacture, it may well have been amongst a range of goods brought by traders from southern Mesopotamia desirous of obtaining copper to take back to their homeland," concludes the study. "Despite the forbidding nature of the desert of western Abu Dhabi, this kind of movement could well account for the deposition of a cylinder seal in such a sandy environment."