City Gate: Small Finds

The small finds from Leilan Op.CG have been classified according to type of object rather than by material largely due to the fact that with the singular exception of L-02-112 (stone sphere), all of the small finds are made of clay. Despite the fact that there was such limited exposure in Op.CG, there were a surprising number of objects found. This indicates that the City Gate area (especially the so-called ‘ash-tip’) was artifactually very rich. Likewise, because the vast majority of objects are in one way or another linked to administration, it is probable that this portion of the City Gate complex was actively involved in administrative activities, most likely involving inter- and intra-regional exchanges. Also, if the interpretation of the stone sphere as a sling bullet is accurate, this would indicate that this was defensive position as well. Furthermore, the presence of two figurine fragments (L-02-25; L-02-27I) is contrary to the otherwise strictly administrative nature of the finds, and may represent a religious or votive component of administrative activities.

Object Classes

Seal Impressions

A total of 16 seal impressions were found in the City Gate operation in 2002. Overall, the designs appear to be pre-Sargonic (Fig. 1 and Fig. 2) and consistent with design styles in the region of northern Syria and northern Mesopotamia. No complete pre-Sargonic designs were found, although enough elements have survived in a few of the impressions that comparanda can be sought and a general commentary can be made.

Additionally, a great number of fragmentary sealings were recovered that show no indication of having been sealed on the obverse; these are dealt with in the section on Reverse Impressions below. The reverses of all of the sealings, including the ones presented in this section, show a number of different impressions of containers such as bags, baskets and pots, which may give us some insight into the functionality of the sealing practices at the city gate.

Interestingly, while many of the broken sealings came from the ash tip layers (like L02-27B to the right), indicating that sealings were likely being broken somewhere in the vicinity of the city gate, there were also a few objects that may indicate that sealing or re-sealing of containers was also taking place in this area. In particular, a balled-up clay strip (L-02-29D - see Miscellaneous Objects below) was discovered in the ash tip, which indicates that there was probably fresh sealing clay nearby and opening and sealing of containers likely took place in the city gate complex.

Reverse Impressions (Clay Sealings)

The reverse impressions recovered from Op.CG represent a varied range of sealing practices. Overall, the majority of reverse impressions, while fragmentary, give the indication that in the city gate precinct objects of a transportable nature were commonly being inspected and the sealings were being discarded (below). For instance, bag and basket impressions are the most commonly seen reverse impressions (Fig. 3). Furthermore, the presence of other clay objects and in particular L-02-29D (see Miscellaneous Objects below), a balled-up clay strip, that indicate that fresh clay was probably present in the vicinity. This suggests that in addition to breaking and discarding of seals, new seals were being administered in this location as well. This is further substantiated by the presence of a clay ‘tester’ 
(Fig. 1) onto which a cylinder seal was rolled.

These observations support the hypothesis that the city gate complex was an area that was designed to carry out administrative activities, presumably relating to inter- and intra-regional exchanges. Stratigraphically, the sealings come primarily from the ‘ash-tip’ ( like Fig. 2), with the exception of one object, L-02-32, which comes from an Akkadian context. This suggests that some continuity in the function of the City Gate area as an administrative precinct existed between the pre-Imperial and Imperial phases at Tell Leilan.


Two objects from Op.CG have been placed in this category as they were probably associated with scribal activities
(Fig. 4). While no discernible linguistic elements are present in either of the objects, their association with a probable Leilan Period IIId deposit is significant for our understanding of early writing in northern Mesopotamia. L-02-27J is a sherd that was inscribed with lat east four marks using a wedge while the clay was still wet. The inscription may not be an attempt to write, however, and may simply be a tally of some sort (cf. McCarthy 2003). L-02-27K, on the other hand, closely resembles inscribed tablets in form, although this example is uninscribed. These two objects, when taken together in the context of the city gate complex, give support to the idea that there may have been more complex administrative techniques (such as script use) in the mid-3rd millennium than has previously been recovered from Tell Leilan.


Two figurine fragments have been found in Op.CG. Both are from the ashtip, a context that indicate a terminal Ninevite 5 date. One figurine is the hindquarter of a quadruped, probably a sheep or goat similar to many that have previously been found at Tell Leilan. The other object is a finely made anthropomorphic figurine with an outstretched arm similar to examples associated with miniature chariots (Fig. 5); L-02-2 (see Miscellaneous Objects below) may be either a miniature chariot wheel or a spindle whorl.

The presence of figurines at the City Gate complex is unusual, given the repertoire of objects recovered that indicate administrative activities. Most of the artifactual evidence suggests that this area was concentrated in functionality as an administrative and perhaps defensive precinct. Therefore, the presence of figurines, depending on interpretation of their use, indicates a religious or votive aspect of administrative activities, or are simply examples of items of curiosity used by the occupants of the official city gate offices.

Miscellaneous Objects

Seven objects have been classified as Miscellaneous Objects due to the fact that there were single examples of each type of object, or that there were not enough to warrant a separate classification. A spindle whorl or model wheel, a balled-up clay strip, a worked pottery bead, a handle or docket, a stone sphere and two spherical clay tokens or gaming pieces were found. Conspicuously, no objects of domestic character were found at Operation CG.

Figure 1.

Figure 2.

Figure 3.

Figure 4.

Figure 5.

Works Cited

  • Matthews, D. 1997, The Early Glyptic of Tell Brak, Cylinder Seals of Third Millennium Syria, Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 15. Fribourg: University Press.
  • McCarthy, A. In Preparation. “Small-scale complexity: sealing practices at Tell Jerablus Tahtani in context.”