Stones engraved as seals were intended to leave an impression when pressed into wax, clay or metal. They are in some ways the equivalent of a modern credit card, since they were used to show that the owner of the seal was accepting responsibility in a specific transaction, or claiming ownership of a particular object.
One can still buy kits in stationery stores that include sealing wax and a metal stamp with one's initial. Up until fairly recently seal impressions on wax were used, for example, to seal documents and letters. Ancient seals were used in much the same way.
Many carved stones that survive, including those used as seals, were pierced so that they could be worn. Somet were set into rings. The two shown here are set into a ring and pendant, respectively.
The word "intaglio" refers to the fact that the
carving is cut into the surface of the stone, so that when a
seal impression is made, the design stands out from the surface
of the wax or clay. Although it may seem in these photographs
that the design is standing out from the surface (in "bas
relief"), what you may see is an optical illusion--the designs
are actually engraved.
Photographs by Bruce and Kenneth Zuckerman
Commentary by Marilyn J. Lundberg.
Resource: "Seals," in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, Volume 4. New York: Oxford University, 1997.
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