When we think of the artistic accomplishments of the Ancient Near East, it’s the great monumental structures that come to mind—the ziggurat at Ur, the barrel-vaulted arch at Ctesiphon, or sprawling temple complexes such as those at Persepolis and Khorsabad, of which only fragments remain. Yet there is a body of work that ranks, not just with those, but with the greatest achievements of all art: Mesopotamian cylinder seals, simple utilitarian objects whose inscribed images constitute a narrative art of a power and sophistication out of all proportion to their diminutive size. Cylinder seals were produced between about 3500 B.C. and 500 B.C. primarily in the area we now know as Iraq. They are stone cylinders, rarely more than an inch tall and one-half inch in diameter—sometimes considerably less—into which has been cut an intaglio design, more often than not a scene of combat ...

 
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