Ancient Near East Seal Collection


Ernst Herzfeld and the Ancient Near Eastern Seals

Ernst Herzfeld (1879–1948) was a scholar in the field of ancient Near Eastern studies. Although his name is more often associated with his work at the sites of Mshatta, Samarra, and Persepolis, Herzfeld was interested in all phases of Near Eastern culture, from the prehistoric period to Islamic times, and conducted archaeological work at several sites. The Freer and Sackler Archives house Ernst Herzfeld’s papers, correspondence, field notebooks, drawings, sketchbooks, inventories of objects, photographs, and squeezes of architectural inscriptions.

Among Herzfeld’s papers are several sketches, drawings, and photographs of ancient Near Eastern seals. It was known that Herzfeld had a collection of ancient Near Eastern seals, but it appears that he did not produce a comprehensive inventory (Root 2005, 219). Of his assemblage, only the prehistoric seals that he collected in Iran between 1920 and early 1930s are known to be housed at the University of Michigan’s Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, the British Museum, and in Yale’s Babylonian Collection.

Although it is unclear where the rest of the collection is located, the drawings of the seals and the photographs of their impressions remain a valuable source of information. However, as Margaret C. Root points out, when we look at Herzfeld’s drawings, we must take into consideration that these were modified, and interpretations were added to the iconographic motifs and the composition of the seals (Root 2015).

In this section, it is possible to explore several of Herzfeld’s notebooks with drawings and photographs of Sasanian seals, drawings and impressions of various types of ancient Near Eastern Seals, including drawings of Tepe Giyan seals, iconographic studies of ancient Near Eastern seals, and Herzfeld’s ledgers, where he recorded archaeological remains (including seals), prehistoric artifacts, and antiquities collected or acquired in several cities throughout Persia in 1923 and 1924, as well as 1926, 1927, and 1929, and, finally, 1932 and 1933.