Sealing Theories and Practices in the Ancient Near East

March 5–6, 2020OIS 2019 Symposium Poster Web_tn250.jpg

Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures, University of Chicago

Organized by Delphine Poinsot,
Postdoctoral Fellow


The seal is to the ancient Near East what the social security number and the lucky charm are to our modern societies: a key element that proves one exists within an administration; an object preciously preserved because it carries identity, validity, and even magical forces. Sealing was a common practice in the ancient Near East, but the associated customs and uses across different societies varied. The study of both its shared and diverse aspects is crucial for understanding the socio-administrative functioning of ancient societies.

Through its many facets, sealing touches several aspects of ancient societies: political, administrative, sociological, cultural, and artistic. To understand this critical source of knowledge, a multi-disciplinary and multi-documentary approach is necessary. This conference therefore brings together scholars from different areas of study: from Anatolia to China and from ancient Mesopotamia to the first centuries of Islam. This spatial, temporal, and disciplinary breadth allows a more complete picture of the sources and methods of analysis available in understanding the socio-administrative practices, systems of thought, and beliefs surrounding seals and sealings

This event is free and open to the public.

Participants (Respondents**)

  • Alain Bresson** (Classics, University of Chicago)
  • Béatrice Caseau (Faculté des Lettres UFR d'Histoire, Sorbonne Université)
  • Paul Copp (East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago)
  • Mark B. Garrison (Art and Art History, Trinity University)
  • McGuire Gibson** (Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)
  • Wouter Henkelman (Section des Sciences Historiques et Philologiques, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes)
  • Deniz Kaptan (Department of Anthropology, University of Neveda Reno)
  • Agnete Wisti Lassen (Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Yale University)
  • Brian Muhs (Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)
  • Theo van den Hout (Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)
  •  Delphine Poinsot (Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)
  • Karl R. Schaefer (Cowles Librairy, Drake University)
  • Torben Schreiber (Institute for Classical and Early Christian Archaeology, University of Münster)
  • Oya Topçuoğlu (Middle East and North African Studies, Northwestern University)
  • Tasha Vorderstrasse (Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)

Click to view and/or download speaker bios as a PDF.


Click to view and/or download abstracts and detailed schedule as PDFs.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Welcome by Christopher Woods, Director of The Oriental Institute
Introduction by Delphine Poinsot, Conference Organizer

SESSION 1: Examining Uses of Seals | 09:30 AM–1:00 PM | Breasted Hall
Session Chair: McGuire Gibson

09:30 Oya Topçuoğlu, "One seal, two seal, red seal, blue seal : multiple seal ownership in Mesopotamia in the early second millenium "
10:00  Agnete Wisti Lassen, "Seal collection and reuse in the ancient Near East​​
10:30 Theo van den Hout, "Preventing fraud and forgery of seals in the Hittite Kingdom"

  • Coffee break  (11:00 - 11:30)

11:30 Brian Muhs, "A diachronic survey of ancient egyptian sealing practices from the predynastic through the graeco-roman periods"
12:00 Deniz Kaptan, "Sealing practices in Anatolia under achaemenid rule"

Response & Discussion, McGuire Gibson 

1:00–2:15 LUNCH BREAK

SESSION 2: Examining administrative archives | 2:15 PM–5:15 PM | Breasted Hall
Session Chair: Alain Bresson

2:15 Torben Schreiber, "Only lumps of clay? Seal impression and their contribution to the reconstruction of hellenistic and roman bureaucracy"
2:45 Mark B. Garrison, "Seals and documents types in the Persepolis Fortification Archive"

  • Coffee Break  (3:15–3:45 PM)

3:45 Wouter Henkelman, "Irdabama and her seals: the roots of the Achaemenids and the fortification archive"
4:15 Delphine Poinsot, "Sealing with animals in Iranian glyptic, from the Achaemenid to the sasanian dynasty"

Response & Discussion, Alain Bresson

5:15–6:30 RECEPTION | LaSalle Bank Room

Friday, March 6, 2020

SESSION 3: Examining beyond administration | 9:30 AM–1:00 PM | Breasted Hall
Session Chair: Tasha Vorderstrasse

9:30 Béatrice Caseau, "Stamping material as seals in roman and byzantine material culture"
10:00 Karl R. Schaefer, "Administering magic in medieval Islam"
10:30 Paul Copp, "Seals in chinese religious practice: metaphor and materiality"

  • Coffee Break  (11:00–11:30 AM) 

Response & Discussion, Tasha Vorderstrasse 

12:00 Delphine Poinsot, concluding remarks & final discussion

3:00 - 4:30 Rhyne King, Susanne Paulus, Delphine Poinsot and Tasha Vorderstrasse "Lasting impressions: using seals in the ancient Near East", optional workshop - LaSalle Bank room


Delphine Poinsot
(773) 702-7497