A Sumerian Marble Bull Stamp Seal, Late Uruk/Jemdet Nasr Period, ca. 3100-2900 BCE


sensitively modeled from marble, rendered in the form of a reclining bull with small vertically drilled eyes, its horns curving forward on its head with its leg bent. Horizontally pierced on the sides for attachment, the underside with two stylized animals.

Background: For the early Sumerians the bull symbolized divinity and power. Their chief gods Enlil and Enki would be honored as the “Great Bull” in song and ritual, and bulls would occasionally be represented on stamp seals with the gods. Images of bull sacrifice has also been found engraved on Sumerian seals. The scenes depicting a bull being stabbed in the throat could be the first evidence of bull sacrificial rites in history. Representations of human-headed bulls as well as bull-headed humans have also been found. These hybrid representations may symbolize the dominance of man over wild animals or the power of intelligence over man’s animal instincts.

For related examples see: E. Moller, Ancient Near Eastern Seals in a Danish Collection, Copenhagen, 1992, pp. 10-18, nos 1-26. E. Gubel (ed.), A l'ombre de Babel: L'art du Proche-Orient Ancien dans les collections belges, Bruxelles, 1995, p. 41, no. 12.

Condition:   Intact and in excellent condition overall, a very finely carved example. 

Dimensions: length: 7/8 inch (2.2 cm)

Provenance: The John J. Slocum Collection:  Mr. Slocum (1914-1997) collected most of his antiquities while serving as US cultural attache to Egypt in the 1960s. Later, he served as Assistant to the Director of The Smithsonian, was appointed by President Reagan to the Presidential Cultural Property Advisory Committee, and was a Trustee Emeritus of the Archaeological Institute of America. He was a well-respected scholar/collector, whose medieval crusader coins were sold in a single-owner sale at Sotheby's, London in 1997.

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