Pottery Roundels

M290a Unglazed pottery roundel with a geometric leaf design
M290bc  Positive and negative plaster imprints of M290a
M276 Unglazed molded pottery roundel with a symmetrical design of a spiral center that
dips down and leads to hole in very center
M287a Pottery roundel featuring a bird looking to the side
M287bc Negative and positive plaster imprints of M287a
M229 Thick, unglazed molded pottery roundel with a geometric designs on both the front and back
M270 Large, unglazed, molded terracotta colored pottery roundel with an image of a bull’s head

Objects: M290abc, M276, M287abc, M229, and M270
JIAAW, Minassian Collection

This Virtual Vault post focuses on a subset of objects in the Joukowsky Institute’s collection whose origins have been the subject of debate amongst Joukowsky community members for some time. They are the pottery roundels that were given to the JIAAW as part of the Minassian Collection, consisting of round pieces of clay with designs etched onto their surfaces, as well as both negative and positive plaster impressions of the clay roundels. The roundels depict a wide range of designs and symbolic subjects, including animals, plants, and geometric shapes. While the Institute’s records attribute these roundels to 13th century Iran, similar objects have been found in many other ancient sites, with some having been used for entirely different purposes from one another. 

Some of the earliest examples of clay molds come from Central Mexico during the Early Formative period (ca. 1800-1200 BCE), where they were used as decorative devices for embellishing clothing, ceramics, and even the person. Typically depicting abstract geometric designs and animal imagery, often in repeating patterns, these clay stamps have been found in ancient burial sites, indicating the meaningful cultural association attached to these objects. The practice of creating and using these clay stamps continued through to the early sixteenth century CE, as exemplified by the Aztec people’s wide use of stamps to apply ink to figurines, clothing, paper, and the body.

Aside from decoration, stamps in antiquity also served practical purposes. Lumps of clay pressed with seal markings, or bullae, originate from the Seleucid period in Iran (306 – c.150 BCE). Bullae were used to shut jars, doors, and baskets, and were designed to prevent tampering with the contents inside.

Cylinder seals could be used to impress intricate designs onto bullae, or were covered with ink and rolled directly onto important documents.

Meanwhile, the ancient Romans used stamps for similar purposes of identification and proof of ownership, but instead of marking papers they marked bread. Since most bread was baked in communal ovens, Roman bakers placed custom bronze stamps on top of their dough so that they could differentiate finished loaves from one another.

Yet, the use of stamp-like objects in antiquity did not stop with bullae or bread making. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is home to a group of ceramic roundels similar to the ones here at the Joukowsky Institute that also once belonged to Kirkor Minassian. According to the Met, these roundels are actually bath scrapers, used in steamy bath houses called hammams to scrub away dead skin and eliminate impurities. Like the clay roundels in the Joukowsky Vault, these scrapers have been attributed to 12th-13th century Iran. While simpler designs could have served the same function of exfoliating the skin, perhaps the intricate illustrations of these bath scrapers says something about the personality of both the artisans who made them and the ancient people who bought and used them. 

The exploration of these once mysterious pottery roundels reflects the natural place that curiosity and imagination have in archaeology. When placed next to one another, each of the objects mentioned in this post share key characteristics that can make them seem very similar to one another. Yet, a deeper look within each object’s cultural context demonstrates the many uses and purposes of stamp-like objects in antiquity despite their apparent similarities.

-Jinette Jimenez ‘21

Read more about ancient stamps and seals:

From the collections: A bread-stamp (Ian Randall)

Cylinder seal | Babylonian | Old Babylonian | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Annual Report of the Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 117 (Jul. 1,1986 – Jun. 30, 1987), p. 16. Pittman, Holly, in collaboration with Joan Aruz. 1987. Ancient Art in Miniature: Near Eastern Seals from the Collection of Martin and Sarah Cherkasky. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no.

Sealing with stamp seal impressions: radiating griffins; banquet scene | Old Assyrian Trading Colony | Middle Bronze Age-Old Assyrian Trading Colony | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Özgüç, Nimet. 1983. “Sealings from Acemhöyük in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.” In Beiträge zur Altertumskunde Kleinasiens: Festschrift für Kurt Bittel, edited by R.M. Boehmer and H. Hauptmann, vol. 1. Mainz am Rhein: Philipp von Zabern, no. 1, p. 414, figs. 1a-b, pls. 83, 1a-1b.

Stamp, Birds | Aztec | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met Collection API is where all makers, creators, researchers, and dreamers can now connect to the most up-to-date data and images for more than 470,000 artworks in The Met collection. As part of The Met’s Open Access program, the data is available for unrestricted commercial and noncommercial use without permission or fee.

History of Iran: Seleucid Empire

History of Iran Seleucid Empire (306 – c.150 BCE) By: Jens Jakobsson, 2004 The Hellenistic period is one of the most controversial in the history of Iran. The Greek or Macedonian dynasties were never fully accepted as more than occupants, and in hindsight their reign has been neglected.

Welcome to Encyclopaedia Iranica

BULLAE, the sealings, usually of clay or bitumen, on which were impressed the marks of seals showing ownership or witness to whatever was attached to the sealing. Bullae or clay sealings were used in ancient Mesopotamia, but strictly speaking bullae came into general use after the end of cuneiform writing.

Ancient Romans Branded Their Bread to Punish Fraudulent Bakers

Among the ruins of Pompeii-ancient coins, jewelry, frescoes-a loaf of bread was found. Perfectly preserved by a layer of volcanic ash, the 2,000-year-old loaf was mysteriously etched with an inscription: celer, slave of quintus granius verus. “The ancient Romans made bronze bread stamps, which were used to identify the baker,” says Nathan Myhrvold, scientist and author of Modernist Cuisine .

Bath Scraper | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met Collection API is where all makers, creators, researchers, and dreamers can now connect to the most up-to-date data and images for more than 470,000 artworks in The Met collection. As part of The Met’s Open Access program, the data is available for unrestricted commercial and noncommercial use without permission or fee.

http://www.sci-news.com/archaeology/doliche-clay-seals-05574.html

See other examples of stamps and bath scrapers:

Stamp seal: hunters and goats, rectangular pen (?) | Dilmun | Middle Bronze Age | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Annual Report of the Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 117 (Jul. 1,1986 – Jun. 30, 1987), p. 16. Pittman, Holly, in collaboration with Joan Aruz. 1987. Ancient Art in Miniature: Near Eastern Seals from the Collection of Martin and Sarah Cherkasky. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no.

Bath Scraper | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met Collection API is where all makers, creators, researchers, and dreamers can now connect to the most up-to-date data and images for more than 470,000 artworks in The Met collection. As part of The Met’s Open Access program, the data is available for unrestricted commercial and noncommercial use without permission or fee.

Bath Scraper | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met Collection API is where all makers, creators, researchers, and dreamers can now connect to the most up-to-date data and images for more than 470,000 artworks in The Met collection. As part of The Met’s Open Access program, the data is available for unrestricted commercial and noncommercial use without permission or fee.

Stamp seal | Iran | Iron Age I | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Frye, Richard N., ed. 1973. Sasanian Remains from Qasr-i Abu Nasr: Seals, Sealings, and Coins. Harvard Iranian Series I. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, no. 27, p. 40. Whitcomb, Donald S. 1985. Before the Roses and Nightingales: Excavations at Qasr-i Abu Nasr, Old Shiraz, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p.

Sealing with inscribed stamp seal impressions | Sasanian | Sasanian | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Frye, Richard N., ed. 1973. Sasanian Remains from Qasr-i Abu Nasr: Seals, Sealings, and Coins. Harvard Iranian Series, I. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, p. 88. Gignoux, Philippe. 1985. “Les Bulles Sasanides de Qasr-i Abu Nasr (Collection du Metropolitan Museum of Art).” Papers in honour of Professor Mary Boyce, Acta Iranica 24, Deuxième Série, Vol.

Bulla with stamp seal impression

Bulla with stamp seal impression Near Eastern, Iranian, Persian Dimensions Height x diameter: 2.5 x 2.8 cm (1 x 1 1/8 in.) Credit Line Morris and Louise Rosenthal Fund Description Clay bulla with impression of a stamp seal depicting the Persian king spearing a Greek hoplite.

Stamp seal | Sasanian | Sasanian | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Frye, Richard N., ed. 1973. Sasanian Remains from Qasr-i Abu Nasr: Seals, Sealings, and Coins. Harvard Iranian Series I. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, no. 14, p. 39, pl. IV. Brunner, Christopher J. 1978. Sasanian Stamp Seals in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no.

Bath Scraper | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met Collection API is where all makers, creators, researchers, and dreamers can now connect to the most up-to-date data and images for more than 470,000 artworks in The Met collection. As part of The Met’s Open Access program, the data is available for unrestricted commercial and noncommercial use without permission or fee.