Glyptic Evidence 1993-1999 from Tell Leilan IIa-IIb Periods

Glyptic Evidence 1993 - 1999 from Tell Leilan IIa - IIb Periods

Elena Rova
Dipartimento di Scienze dell’Antichità e del Vicino Oriente,
Università Ca’ Foscari, Venezia

Approximately sixty fragments of impressed clay sealings and two original cylinder seals were recovered from the period IIa-IIb levels in the 1993-1999 Acropolis Northwest excavations at Tell Leilan. Together with the glyptic unearthed from period IIId-IIa levels during the 1985-1987 campaigns (Parayre in Weiss et al. 1990, Parayre in press), they provide an exhaustive picture of glyptic development at the site between the Leilan IIId (=Late ED II, EJ II) and IIb (= Akkadian, EJ IV) periods. Furthermore, the variety of styles represented in these stratigraphic assemblages begins to define: (1) the complex pattern of different glyptic traditions co-occurring in the third millennium urban centers of the Habur and Balikh plains of Upper Mesopotamia during the EJ III period, and (2) the effects of the Akkadian conquest and of the presence of Akkadian administration in the eastern Habur area.

As previous research (ibid.) has shown, the Leilan IIId period experienced a profound iconographic alteration. Previously, Tell Leilan seal iconography was dominated by geometric patterns of the “Glazed Steatite” or “Piedmont” tradition. Period IIId, however, marks the introduction of naturalistic iconography designs, such as “banquet scenes,” of south Mesopotamian origin. A single “Glazed Steatite” style cylinder seal, L-93-11 (Fig. 1a), from a mixed period IIa context, perhaps an heirloom, may attest the persistence of the style into this period. The presence of both hatched arches/ladders and dotted circles defines the L 93-11 seal as a typical example of the “Hatched Group” (Pittman 1994) of the “Glazed Steatite” style, whose distribution spans Highland Iran, Susa, eastern Iraq (Diyala/Hamrin area) and Assyria, to the Habur region of northeastern Syria (for other examples from the Habur, see Matthews 1997, nos. 10, 53, 54, 56). The row of alternate standing and upside-down triangles is rarer, but also attested in the Habur (Schwartz, Curvers 1992, fig. 17) and elsewhere (e.g. Amiet 1980, pl. 29, 462). This seal shares, with another seal from Leilan (Weiss 1990, 392, pl. 139) and with some of the sealings from Brak, a special similarity to examples from Assyria, the Diyala region, and Susa, whereas most of the remaining items from the Habur region tend to show simpler, less complex designs. This strongly suggest direct contact of the largest centers of the eastern Habur region with the main distribution area of the Glazed Steatite group of seals, and more indirect relations, mediated through local imitation, by the smaller settlements of the countryside.

The absence in period IIa contexts of sealings with typical “Glazed Steatite” style designs confirms the impression that this style goes out of use in Upper Mesopotamia by the end of the Ninevite 5 (i.e. Leilan IIId) period. On the other hand, it is well known that other geometric designs, partially derivative from it, persist in northeastern, as well as in inner Syria (Matthews 1997, Mazzoni 1992), at least until the end of the Early Dynastic period or later. As for the Habur region, the relevant data from Tell Brak collected in Matthew’s (1997) pioneer study are now confirmed by the 1993 Leilan period IIa sealings, a considerable part of which bear entirely or partially geometric designs in different local styles.

One example is L 93-13 (Fig. 1b), which shows two superimposed toothed bands, and a row of solid triangles, alternately upright and upside-down, beside an unrecognizable design (maybe a loop). Toothed bands and a number of variously interpreted similar elements -herringbones, branches- are a typical feature of the Early Bronze glyptic of Syria. They were certainly in use for a long time, but had their main distribution period during the EB III (=EJ IIIa-b) phase. As for the row of solid triangles, it is found on several seals belonging to both the “Glazed Steatite” style (listed in Matthews 1997, 79-81, see also the examples from the Habur cited above for the Leilan seal L 93-11) and to a number of local styles of the Early Bronze Age of Syria (ibid., 76 f.). The association of these two elements is found at Tell Chuera (Kleiner Antentempel, West-Erweiterung), on the impression from a long, thin seal, which probably derives from the “Glazed Steatite” style tradition (see Matthews 1997, 79-81).

A small group of sealings, which show various spiral and swirl patterns is also characteristic. These are widespread in Syria over a long period of time with uncertain inter-style distinctions (Matthews 1997, 77, 88f., 131). Of the two selected sealings from Leilan IIa (Fig. 1, c-d), the first, L-93-65, bears a purely geometric design: a large swirl, and a single “spiral”, over a double “spiral” design (“spirals” actually consist of dotted circles surrounded by a loop or swirl). The second sealing, L-93-61A, is especially interesting: it associates a band of irregular running spirals or swirls with a partially preserved naturalistic scene including a naked human being, standing (?) to the right over an unidentifiable object. A close parallel for the spiral design is found at Tell Brak (Matthews 1997, n. 68). An example from SIS 4-5 at Ur (Amiet 1980, n. 828) shows a boat with standing figures beside the spiral pattern, which could thus be interpreted as a representation of waves. This could suggest that also the Leilan exemplar was part of a similar navigation scene. A marble seal of unknown provenance now in the British Museum (Dominique Collon, personal communication, Druout-Montaigne 2001: no. 21) bears a similar wave pattern, which transforms itself into the head, forelegs, and hindlegs of a bull. The Leilan impression may thus be connected with a still poorly known seal group of southern origin.

Part of a south Mesopotamian-type contest scene is preserved on the L 93-17 sealing (Fig. 1, e). Within a busy composition crowded with different filling motifs, there appear from the left to right: two bull-men, a standing lion with a pronged tail, a large naked man, probably holding the lion, a bull, and finally a small human, apparently bird-headed, who knees to the left with upright arms, and holds with the left hand the bull’s chest, and with the other an unidentifiable animal. The distribution of Early Dynastic contest scenes in Upper Mesopotamia and Syria has been recently discussed by D. Matthews (1997, 103-108, 132-135, 188 ff.), who repeatedly commented upon the difficulty of assigning many of the northern examples to the different styles and chronological stages as known from southern Mesopotamia. In the present case, several details would point to ED II-IIIa southern prototypes: the kneeing hero, for instance, is rather frequent in the so-called “Fara style” (see Amiet 1980, nos. 851, 853, 857-859, 871, 873), to which the rather crowed composition, the presence of fillings, and details like the bull-men’ tails could also be referred (see ibid., pls. 65-72, passim). The closest parallels for the Leilan sealings are nevertheless a number of examples from Tell Brak (Matthews 1997, pls. XIII-XV, passim; for the small kneeing hero, see especially n. 141), most of which show ED IIb-IIIa stylistic features, though according to Matthews (ibid. 133), they “should in fact be regarded as ‘ED IIB-ED IIIB’ without internal chronological distinctions”. The period IIa context of the Leilan sealing would support a prevailingly ED-EJ III date for similar specimens from northeastern Syria.

Finally, the continuing use of stamp seals is also attested in the period IIa sample. L 93-23 (Fig. 1, f) bears two impression, probably from the base and the side of the same seal. The first one shows two schematic human beings standing to the right, with elongated “bird”-head and large eye, apparently holding a pole between them; the second one has a geometric design formed by a row of connected chevrons. Though published stamp seals and impressions from III millennium Upper Mesopotamia are rather rare, they have occasionally been found (for further examples from Leilan, see Parayre in press, nos. 14 and 15; L 87-1506 and L 87-1132, both from period IIId contexts). The figures on the L-92-23 sealing show a vague resemblance to some figures from the EJ cylinder glyptic from the Habur region (e.g. Matthews 1997, n. 500, from Tell Mozan, nos. 502-3, 514, 517, 519, 520, from Tell Brak), which this author tentatively assigns to the ED II-III periods (ibid., 145 f.).

To sum up, the glyptic assemblage from IIa period contexts at Leilan, with its simultaneous presence of different local and southern styles, confirms the picture of complexity offered by recently published assemblages from Leilan itself (Parayre in Weiss, Rova in press), Tell Brak (Matthews 1997, passim), Tell Mozan (Buccellati, Kelly-Buccellati 1990), Tell Chuera (esp. Moortgat-Correns 1988; see also Matthews 1997, 115-117 and passim) and Tell Beydar (Teissier in Lebeau, Suleiman 1997). These suggest the presence at the EJ III period urban centers of the Habur-Balikh region, of: (1) several schools of autonomous glyptic production inspired by southern prototypes, but also of (2) direct contacts with different areas of southern Mesopotamia, and, on the other side, of (3) continuing deep involvement in a northern cultural environment spanning from western Syria to the Tigris region (Matthews 1997, Marchetti 1998).

The Akkadian occupation of Tell Leilan in period IIb has so far provided one original seal and three impressions, all from different cylinder seals. In contrast with the Leilan IIa assemblage, these present (erase “s”) an homogeneous assemblage, which shows all the features of southern Akkadian glyptic. This suggests a radical and probably abrupt change in the glyptic repertory - the main indication of which would be the disappearance of geometric designs of northern tradition - as a consequence of the Akkadian occupation of the region. The small period IIb sample from Tell Leilan strictly mirrors, in both iconography and style, the wider corpus now available from Tell Brak (Matthews 1997). This represents further evidence for the deep integration of the Habur area into the Akkadian empire suggested by both archaeological and epigraphic data.

The fragmentary L 93-66 sealing (Fig. 2, a) was found on a period IIb floor in association with Old Akkadian tablet fragments. The impression shows a bearded hero with a raised leg and outstretched arms beside a cuneiform inscription, which is clearly part of a typical Late Akkadian seal design with two symmetric pairs of rivals on both sides of the inscription. The high quality of the seals of this group suggests that they were the product of court workshops. They often bear inscriptions mentioning court officials and members of the royal household, and were therefore connected with the highest level of the Akkadian administration (Matthews 1997, 139). The inscription of the L 93-66 sealing, as published in Weiss 1997, 126, confirms the presence at Shehna of “Hayabum the shabra,” the highest rank official of the Akkadian empire, hence the possibility that the seal from which it derives came from the south together with its owner. Parallels for the design are plentiful (e.g., Boehmer 1965, pl. 15 ff.). In Eastern Syria, similar designs are known from Tell Brak and Tell Mozan (Matthews 1997, 292, 307-8, 311-325, Buccellati, Kelly-Buccellati 2000, figs 1, 2) and from Mari on the Euphrates (Boehmer 1965, fig. 219).

L 99-1 (Fig. 2b) a light coloured seal of glazed composition (erase: “also indicates the Akkadian presence at Tell Leilan, and”) joins the small corpus of original Akkadian seals the Habur (18 examples, all of them from Tell Brak: Matthews 1997, 173) and brings further evidence for the Akkadian presence at Leilan. It shows three naked, bearded heroes, or gods, with prominent nose and elaborate head-dress, kneeling (or running in Knielauf) to the right, the right arm bent to the waist, and the left arm raised in front of the face holding an axe, skinning (?) upturned quadrupeds (goats/gazelles). The position of the hero’s arms and his attributes belong to the standard Akkadian iconography. For the kneeling position of the hero, see Boehmer 1965, figs. 157, 364, and, in different contexts, also figs. 281 299, 316, 232, 524, 525, 289, 359. The head-dress, though unparalleled, is similar to Akkadian examples from Brak (Matthews 1997, nos. 295, 298, 310, 332, esp. 395 and 362). The seal shows several unusual features, for which no precise parallel could be found: the presence of two horizontal lines bordering the scene (for a Brak example of groundline, see Matthews 1997, no. 298 ); the sequence of three couples of opponents on a row, the upside-down caprid, and especially the row of couchant animals on the top. The schematic style of the seal and its material suggest that it may nave been locally manufactured for the lower ranks of the Akkadian administration. In this respect, it is interesting to observe that, contrary to some of the seal impressions mentioned above, none of the original Akkadian seals from northeastern Syria share the artistic and material qualities of southern Akkadian seals.


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List of Figures

Fig. 1
Glyptic from period IIa strata.
a) L 93-11. Black glazed (?) steatite cylinder seal with geometric design of Glazed Steatite (“Piedmont”) style.
b) L 93-13. Clay sealing with impression of small cylinder seal with geometric design.
c) L 93-65. Clay sealing with geometric cylinder (?) seal impression.
d) L 93-61A. Clay sealing with fragmentary cylinder seal impression: geometric design and scene with human beings.
e) L 93-17. Clay sealing with cylinder seal impression: contest scene.
f) L 93-23. Clay sealing with two complete stamp seal impressions.

Fig. 2
Glyptic from period IIb strata.
a) L 93-66. Clay sealing with impression of Akkadian cylinder seal.
b) L 99-1. Akkadian cylinder seal of light coloured glazed composition