Mementoes from Mesopotamia

This installation presents twenty-two rarely displayed objects from the Mead’s collection of Mesopotamian antiquities, including cuneiform inscriptions, cylinder seals, figurines, fragmentary stone reliefs, and glazed bricks. Many of these objects came to the college in the 1850s, at the same time as the monumental wall reliefs from the palace of King Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud in Iraq.  Others, part of the personal collection of a nineteenth-century missionary in Iraq, were given to the college in 1928. The cuneiform inscriptions were added to the collection later, between 1935 and 1961.

Cuneiform inscriptions

Two of the inscriptions on view are official government documents. A barrel-shaped cylinder (below left) bears an inscription celebrating King Nebuchadnezzar II’s renovation of a temple to the sun god. Another commemorates one of the earliest diplomatic treaties known, a peace agreement concluded in the mid-third millennium B.C.E. between two Mesopotamian rulers.  Other inscriptions record less lofty achievements. One is a temple receipt for five sacrificial sheep, and another is a novice scribe’s practice page.

Cylinder seals

Cylinder seals were used for over two thousand years in ancient Mesopotamia to mark authority and to safeguard private property. Engraved with intricate designs, they were rolled over moist clay to seal storage jars, bundles of merchandise, or doors. The five examples on view range in date from 2500 B.C.E. to 600 B.C.E. and are made of a variety of colored stones, including marble, serpentine, and carnelian.


Three Assyrian clay female figurines on view probably served as humble gifts to the gods to assure fertility and an easy childbirth. Also included in the display is a small stone amulet that was believed to protect babies from evil demons.

Fragmentary reliefs and glazed bricks

The fragmentary wall reliefs on view show parts of scenes with warriors and captives, subjects not represented on the Mead’s large panels. Three glazed bricks provide evidence for the colorful patterns that once decorated Mesopotamian buildings.


For information about each image presented here, click on the image to be redirected to the Collections Database.