A cylindrical seal from Lama Cemetery, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad Province, Iran

Amir Saed Mucheshi & Mohamad Javad Jafari

Introduction

The Lama Cemetery (N: 31° 2’ 43.96” E: 51°12’ 55.87”) is located in the southern part of the village of the same name, 10km from the Pataveh District of Dena county in Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad Province, Iran (Figure 1). The cemetery was discovered in December 1999 during the construction of the road from Yasuj to Isfahan (Figure 2). During the third season of excavations, several graves were unearthed. One of these, number 69, differs from all the others because of its grave goods, including the only seal discovered at the site.


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Figure 1. Map showing the location of Lama Cemetery in Iran.

Figure 1. Map showing the location of Lama Cemetery in Iran.
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Figure 2. Site of the Lama area.

Figure 2. Site of the Lama area.


Archaeological excavations at the cemetery

Following the discovery of the cemetery, two seasons of rescue excavations were undertaken by Hassan Rezvani from the Iranian Centre for Archaeological Research (ICAR) (Rezvani et al. 2007). A third season, in 2008, was directed by M.J. Jafari (2013), also from ICAR. During this season, one grave in a test trench and 12 others in the main (25 × 10m) trench (Figure 3) were excavated. The most frequent grave goods were pottery vessels and bronze artefacts. Jafari dated the graves to the end of the middle Elamite II, III (1500–1100 BC) and Neo Elamite I (1100–770 BC) periods (Jafari 2013: 58).


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Figure 3. Topographic map of Lama Cemetery with trench locations.

Figure 3. Topographic map of Lama Cemetery with trench locations.
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Figure 4. Excavation plan (bottom) and picture (top left) of the Lama Cemetery and grave 69 with capstone <i >in situ</i> and removed following excavation (top right).

Figure 4. Excavation plan (bottom) and picture (top left) of the Lama Cemetery and grave 69 with capstone in situ and removed following excavation (top right).


One of the finds was a cylindrical seal (6907251) discovered in grave 69 (G69) in the north-eastern part of the main trench. The dimensions of the grave were 4.5 × 0.65m, oriented north–south, and 1m in height (Figure 4). The tomb had been re-used several times, and the exact number of the individuals interred could not be determined. The most interesting aspect of the grave, however, is the uniqueness of the associated material culture when compared to that from other graves at the site. Based on comparanda, the ceramic material from the other graves can be dated to the late second to the early first millennium BC. The material in G69, however, including the cylindrical seal and grey ceramic wares, continued into the eighth century BC.

The cylindrical seal

The seal is 19 × 9mm in size, with a 3mm hole through the middle (Figure 5). Parts of the carved inscription, although damaged, can be discerned. According to G. Beckman, “The scene is a re-cut, obliterating most of the original four- or five-line cuneiform inscription. The ends of the lines can be seen behind the right-hand figure, and perhaps traces of the beginning of the first line above the head of the left-hand personage” (pers. comm.). He tentatively reads the inscription as follows:

1.  x x [ … ]-ib(?)

2.  [ … ] x

3.  [ … ]-ni(?)

4.  [ … ]-ru(?)

5. [ … ] x(?)


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Figure 5. The cylindrical seal from grave 69 at Lama (a: <i >in situ</i>, b: the archer, c: new impression of the seal, d: drawing of seal impression).

Figure 5. The cylindrical seal from grave 69 at Lama (a: in situ, b: the archer, c: new impression of the seal, d: drawing of seal impression).

Neither the text nor any of the symbols are well enough preserved to permit identification of the date of the original inscription. The fact, however, that the lines of cuneiform were engraved perpendicular to the axis of the seal—that is, horizontally, a feature attested only sporadically in the Kassite period (Collon 1987: 59–61, number 242), suggests that the seal was originally manufactured in the latter half of the second millennium BC (Figure 5). The seal illustrates a human figure with open arms and holding a bow. The figure chases after an ostrich that has turned its head backwards towards the archer. The legs of the ostrich indicate movement, and the wings are spread. This scene probably depicts an ostrich hunt, an image also found on seals from Nippur (Parker 1962: fig. 1) and Musasir (Collon 1994: pl. 4.1.1) in the eighth century BC.


Conclusion

The inscription on the Lama seal points to a date in the second half of the second millennium BC, later damaged by the engraving of an ostrich hunt during the eighth century BC. The style of the hunt scene is similar to those featured on seals of neo-Elamite II, neo-Assyrian and neo-Babylonian date. The grey ware ceramic vessels and iron artefacts from G69 are consistent with an eighth century BC date. In general terms, this seal demonstrates that caution must be employed in the dating of such valuable and special objects: they may have remained in use, undergoing modification, for several generations before deposition.

Acknowledgements

We are grateful to G. Beckman for his helpful suggestions. We would also like to thank K. Abdi who sent us the images of the seal for G. Beckman, as well as L. Hashemi for editing the text.

References

  • COLLON, D. 1987. First impressions: cylinder seals in the ancient Near East. Chicago (IL): University of Chicago Press.
  • – 1994. Near Eastern seals. London: British Museum.
  • JAFARI, M. J. 2013. Report of the third season of archaeological excavation at Lama Cemetery, Iran. Iranian Archaeology 4: 58–78.
  • PARKER, B. 1962 Seals and seal impression from the Nimrud excavation. Iraq 24: 26–58.
  • REZVANI, H., K. ROUSTAEI, A. AZADI & E. QEZEL BASH. 2007. Final report of archaeological excavations Lama Cemetery. Tehran: Iranian Center for Archaeological Report (in Persian).

Authors

* Author for correspondence.

  • Amir Saed Mucheshi*
    Department of Art and Architecture, Payame Noor University, Tehran, Iran (Email: saedmucheshi [at] gmail.com)
  • Mohamad Javad Jafari
    Department of Archaeology, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran (Email: jafari1360 [at] yahoo.com)
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