Cylinder seal with female figures and cows


A pair of resting cows surmounts two mountains indicated by superimposed triangles. Their bodies are rendered with extraordinary attention to detail, manifested in subtle differences in anatomy. In contrast to these depictions, the stylized bodies of the two female figures are reduced to multiple round forms created with a drill. They sit on benches or mats, arms raised and their hair falling down their backs or tied in a bun at their napes. Between each of the humans and animals appears a large pot. This seal represents the preparation of dairy products in early Mesopotamian societies, in which women played an essential role as part of the workforce.

Cylinder seal (and modern impression) with female figures and cows
Mesopotamia, Sumerian
Late Uruk period, ca. 3300–3000 BC
Green serpentine
The Morgan Library & Museum, Acquired by J. Pierpont Morgan, 1885–1908; Morgan Seal 7


Sidney Babcock: A number of seals from this period demonstrate the vital role of women in the workforce and their contribution to early Mesopotamian society. They made textile, ceramic, and agricultural products. Here, two women seated on benches or mats prepare dairy products. Similar to other seals that feature female figures working, their hair is gathered and pulled away from the face to keep it from obstructing their vision. One notable aspect of this seal is the difference in the way the women and the cows were rendered. While the women’s bodies are formed by round elements drilled into the stone, the cows are illustrated with more detail. Resting upon mountains, their legs are carefully tucked underneath them and the pronounced, smooth curve of their horns is striking. This treatment is a testament to the Mesopotamians’ deep respect for the animals who provide them with sustenance.