Identity and symbolism

The meanings of early prehistoric stamp seals in the late Neolithic Middle East

Project team

Department of Middle East 


  • Dr Stuart Campbell, 
    University of Manchester

Supported by

  • Arts and Humanities Research Council
  • An Arts and Humanities Research Council
    Collaborative Doctoral Award

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Stamp seals are normally small stone artefacts with an engraved design on one or more surfaces. They initially appear during the pottery Neolithic period in the seventh millennium BC but it is during the Halaf period of the sixth millennium that they are found in large numbers.

The British Museum has one of the largest collection of stamp seals in any single institution and only one study has been made of the collection. In comparison, the cylinder seals have been heavily studied and by extension this has led to stamp seals being interpreted in terms of the later developments of sealing mechanisms.

This study aims to redress this balance by reinterpreting stamp seals explicitly within their seventh and sixth millennium contexts. This will be aided by the ongoing Domuztepe excavations project, also jointly organised by Manchester University and the British Museum.

The importance of the study arises from the historical context; the late Neolithic (Pottery Neolithic, Halaf and Ubaid) is a key period of social development between the origins of farming (about 9,500 BC) and the first city based societies (about 4,000 BC). It sees the development of administration, ownership, and the general shift from pre-state simpler societies to highly stratified state society. The study will ask such questions as what is the relationship between the use of early stamp-seals and ritual, symbolism and identity? What is the relationship between early stamp-seals and administrative practices? How can the investigation of these relationships inform our understanding of the development of increasingly complex societies before urbanism?

Further information

Excavations at Domuztepe 

Online Domuztepe data repository 

Halaf stamp seal

Halaf stamp seal
from Arpachiyah, North Iraq.