Photograph of Hellenistic period seals and tablets with seal impressions by Klaus Wagensonner

Wearing Rings and Sealing Tablets in the Ancient World

Advisors: Agnete Lassen (YPM Babylonian Collection Associate Curator) and Elizabeth Knott (YPM Babylonian Collection Postdoctoral Associate) 


Length: 8 weeks in summer 


Project Description: Ring seals—stamp seals that were carved in the shape of a ring or were fixed into a metal ring—appear to be the kind of objects that could be worn in antiquity as jewelry on fingers and used administratively when pressed into clay to leave an impression. As both items of beauty and practicality, such seals were likely viewed as valuable commodities in the ancient world. Examples of such seals in the Yale Babylonian Collection can be more than three thousand years old, and represent some of the earliest known forms of personal arts in the world.  


Despite the presumed value of these ring seals, little is known about their actual use in antiquity. We know that men and women could both own seals, but we do not know if both men and women owned ring seals, or what fingers the seals might have been worn on, or how they were pressed into clay to create an impression. In order to better understand the uses of such seals, the Wearing Rings and Sealing Tablets in the Ancient World Project investigates the sizes of ring seals in the Yale Babylonian Collection.  


The intern will identify all ring seals in the Yale Babylonian Collection working from photographs or (preferably) the objects themselves. He/she/they will chart the relationships between types and sizes of ring seals and possible owners in various periods, creating a database of the identified ring seals and researching the size of bodies in the ancient world. The student will have an opportunity to use EMu, our database, updating records in regards to function, material, shape, size, and weight of the ring seals. 


Weeks 1–2: Introduction to YBC, ancient seals, and seal documentation practices. 

Weeks 3–4: Identification of ring seals in the YBC and creation of a database for research. 

Weeks 5–6: Research and creation of a presentation on periods of ring seal use.  

Week 7–8: Update records in EMu, create social media assets, write newsletter report. 


Potential Outcomes: Social media posts and video, publication in a newsletter. 


Connection to YPM Collections and Department Goals: This project is part of the grant-funded YBC Seal Digitization Project and will aid in the presentation of the YBC’s collection online and in galleries. 


Potential Costs: There are no anticipated project costs. Students will be asked to use software available through the Yale Software Library (e.g., Photoshop, Word, Excel) as well as EMu to conduct their research. The YBC has calipers and a scale for measuring and weighing objects, Sculpey for the creation of modern impressions, and photography equipment for digitization, if the student is able to work in the collection. 


Stipend: $3000