WHATS AND WHYS
Seals are small objects made of stone or other materials, such as metal, bone or glass, carrying engraved motifs on one or more of their faces. These objects are as a rule equipped with a means which allows their attachment to the human body. They either have a perforation for hanging from a string or, in the case of signet rings, a hoop for wearing on the finger.
Seals were popular artefacts in the prehistoric Aegean. In a time with no personal IDs and locks, these objects were used as a means of identification, authorisation and security from unauthorised access. They would, for example, often be used to impress lumps of clay attached onto object openings, such as wooden boxes, to secure them from opening (sealings). They were also impressed on formed clay objects, such as vessels, to provide some (unknown to us) information. Seals would also function as charms, jewels and status symbols. This is, on the one hand, suggested by their common manufacture in semi-precious stones and gold and, on the other, by the fact that they are shown worn on the wrists of human figures represented in the art of the period.
Video: Kristina Klein
Aegean glyptic offers one of the most eloquent types of material evidence from the Aegean Bronze Age. The representations on these objects constitute the richest source of imagery available from that period revealing snapshots of the life and cognition of the Aegean individual in an unparalleled manner. Furthermore, the use of seals as a means of both securing and labelling provides insights into the social and administrative organisation of the societies that produced them. On a more personal level, their function as objects adorning the body reveals the beliefs of the individuals making up these societies, since the use of an object as a charm, for example, suggests to us that the person owning it attributed magical powers to it.
Because of their large significance for understanding the Aegean past, seals have been intensively studied by specialists. Non-specialists and laypeople are often fascinated by this material. However, they seldom approach it more comprehensively and go beyond the process of simply admiring its images. This webpage is addressed to this audience, the individuals who would like to learn some facts about Aegean glyptic without necessarily having an archaeological education. For more on our aims, see here.