Mesopotamian Stone Seal Stamp, 8mm

Date: c. 5000 – 1000 BCE
Western Mesopotamia

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Item Description:

This stone seal stamp originates from western Mesopotamia, and dates back to approximately the 5th to 1st millennium BCE. It was once part of the collection of Gustav Oberländer (1926-2012), who acquired his massive and important collection of seals between 1985 and the 2000s from reputable dealers and old collections. Oberländer specialized in early stamp and cylinder seals from the prehistoric and dynastic civilizations in the Middle East, including Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and Bactria. If shown in the product photos, this item comes with the original documentation written by Mr. Oberländer.

Seal stamps like these served a pivotal role in the administrative, legal, and trade domains of their time. Created from a variety of materials like baked clay, jadeite, diorite, and rock crystal among others, they were primarily used to imprint geometric patterns into soft clay. The seals are evidence of an early comprehension of personal property, and possibly even served as counting tools for expressing quantities as well. Many of these seals likely took on a dual purpose as amulets, evidenced by the holes drilled into them.

The Halaf culture, which was recognized for its innovative farming techniques and exquisite pottery, marked the earliest known use of these stamp seals. Halaf settlements consisted of round houses, with domestic chores likely being carried out in open spaces rather than inside individual homes, reflecting a communal, kinship group social structure. These communities spread widely, coexisting and eventually merging with the Ubaid culture in Iraq.

The way these seal stamps were used in Halaf society went through significant transformations. Initially, in the 6th millennium, their society appeared egalitarian, with seals primarily found in communal storehouses. But as the 5th millennium dawned, there was a noticeable shift influenced by the neighboring Ubaid culture. Halaf settlements began exhibiting more singular family houses with clearer boundaries. A class distinction began to emerge, as evidenced by the concentration of seals in new religious structures and specific households, suggesting the rise of an elite class. The function of the seals, too, evolved: from being tools for overseeing collective redistribution, they became instruments signifying financial inequalities, applied by families who withdrew goods, perhaps as a method of redistributing resources among different households.

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