Sunday, October 6, 2013

Seals and Sealing in CDLI files

Seals and Sealing in CDLI files
Robert Englund
One of the weaknesses of CDLI files has been their limited annotation
of entries concerning seals and sealing in ancient Mesopotamia. Some
years ago, Christina Tsouparopoulou, then a CDLI research associate at
the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, entered
to a dedicated relational database the records of the seal impressions
found on texts from Drehem, ancient Puzrish-Dagan, that had formed the
core of her 2008 Cambridge dissertation "The Material Face of
Bureaucracy: Writing, Sealing and Archiving Tablets for the Ur III
State at Drehem." The 601 composite seals (that is, seals
reconstructed based on their use on ancient documents), associated
with some 1415 tablets registered in the CDLI catalogue, were
qualified with a series of philological, archaeological and art
historical qualifiers that Christina felt were essential to capture
the detailed nuances in the (once) physical artifacts. I agreed, and
agree, that in particular such elements as those describing the
iconography, form, production technology, and practice of use of
cylinder seals are essential for their in-depth study; but I had to be
realistic, when Christina's position in Berlin ended, about the amount
of resources we would be able to dedicate to a seals catalogue, and I
thus decided to streamline it for continuation at CDLI, dispensing
with its involved archaeological apparatus. Seals are now entered as
any other CDLI artifact, but are treated as composite reconstructions,
and, in the case of existing objects, as physical artifacts, though
still essentially composites. These two categories are noted as "CDLI
Seals n (composite)" and "CDLI Seals n (physical)", whereby n is a
six-digit number that, in 'S123456', constitutes an artificial seal ID
in our catalogue. It may be noted that specialists such as Rudi Mayr
identified many instances of the re-use of the same physical seal. In
these cases, each seal generation represents a new artifact, and
therefore a new seal ID number with associated witnesses, even where
the expert will identify two legends, one under the other, on the same

The major interest, and given the nature of our files, capability of
CDLI to contribute to seals research, lies in our electronic
transliterations and thus in the seals that, beginning in the ED IIIb
period with some consistency, combined pictorial and geometric scenes
with legends. These framed inscriptions as a rule named the seal
owner, his profession or educational standing, his patronymic and,
looking up in the Mesopotamian hierarchy, his administrative
affiliations. They form a category of CDLI entries not originally
envisioned at our conception, namely that of an ethereal composition
that is related to the concept of an 'Urtext', but that in the case of
seals--and including brick stamps as the first cases of "printing
presses"--is grounded in a physical artifact. Mesopotamian cylinder
seals, as we know, are found in innumerable collections, with and
without owner legends. I personally have no idea how many there are.
In the great majority of examplars with legends, the seals themselves
appear to be lost, with exceedingly few matches having been made
between actual seals and impressions on texts; the ancient seals,
however, are often fully reconstructable based on one, up to as many
as 620 (Umma's Lukalla = S002932) impressions found on tablets in
collections worldwide. More conventional composite texts now, or about
to be registered in much the same way in the CDLI catalogue include
royal (<>, led by Daniel
Foxvog), and, in time, lexical, and literary texts. Our ultimate
internal justification for conventionalized composition entries is
their use in creating cleaner data sets, since irregularities in basic
text entry, lexicon and sign readings, are much more visible when
things line up than when viewed individually; but their use in online
research will be of greater interest to colleagues and will,
hopefully, complement the available resources of the BDTNS
(<>; PI Manuel Molina cleansed BDTNS' seal
legends some time ago, and these are searchable as separate entities
in his files).

In the past several months then, I have spent quite a bit of my time,
with the undying scripting support of Eunice Yuh-Jie Chen, graduate
student of UCLA's Department of Computer Science, trying to remedy
this failing, and can refer users to a prelimary CDLI page dedicated
to the topic at <> that
presents some of the new search capabilities this work has made
possible. In our main search page, the field "Seal ID" can be
cross-referenced with other fields by typing in "S", and in full
search results pages, seal IDs are listed and color-coded as
hyperlinks in the catalogue list to the left of associated images and
transliterations; for instance, clicking on the ID S000003 in the
entry for AUCT 1, 151, brings the user to a scroll listing of 29
witness texts, headed by their composite entry
(<>). In raw numbers, CDLI catalogue now
contains entries documenting ca. 27,550 Mesopotamian artifacts related
to seals and sealing: 21,000 represent inscribed tablets whose seal
impressions include owner legends; 5,230 are discrete composites
derived from these impressions; and currently just 960 are entered
physical seals. As is to be expected, both in terms of its ancient
administrative and legal apparatus, and in terms of the open access
initiatives embraced since the commencement of data entry by Marcel
Sigrist, Bram Jagersma and Remco de Maaijer, substantially furthered
by BDTNS, then also by CDLI collaborators, an imposing majority of
these entries derive from Ur III texts (25,980 total entries, and
5,112 composites--which can be noted to discussions of literacy and
the administrative workforce in this short phase of Babylonian
history; these files include the Irisagrig seal legends recently
published by David Owen in Nisaba 15). Poorly accessible for harvest,
aggregation and re-use have been the files of Old Babylonian,
neo-Babylonian and neo-Assyrian specialists. The present work should
preface a much larger initiative to order these hallmark
administrative tools--beginning with a full catalogue of all physical
seals, focusing on all seals with legends, and then inclusion in CDLI
of transliterations of the other big sealing periods, if and when the
artifacts and electronic files become available to us.

Eunice's working interface, scripted out of CDLI's full C-ATF
(<>) file dump, was very
simple. All identifed seal legends were isolated, duplicate legends
merged and written into single, sortable lines in the form:

1. ur-{d}dumu-zi-da  2. dub-sar  3. dumu du10-ga  4. szabra P290877
1. ur-{d}dumu-zi-da  2. dub-sar  3. dumu szesz-kal-la P142190
1. ur-{d}dumu-zi-da  2. dub-sar  3. dumu ur-nigar{gar} kuruszda P135491
1. ur-{d}dumu-zi-da  2. dub-sar  3. dumu ur-nigar{gar} szusz3 P142770
1. ur-{d}dumu-zi-da  2. dub-sar  3. dumu ur-x-... P101851
1. ur-{d}dumu-zi-da  2. dub-sar dumu du10-ga P120454
1. ur-{d}dumu-zi-da  2. dumu szesz-sa6-ga P290674
1. ur-{d}dumu-zi-da  2. lu2 lunga3  3. dumu ur-{d}nin-gal P120729
1. ur-{d}en-gal-du-du  2. dub-sar  3. dumu ur-{d}ba-ba6  4. dumu-ni
P274282 P274429
1. ur-{d}en-ki  2. dub-sar  3. dumu a-ad-da-mu P122241 P122242

Casual inspection of the suspect 3rd-5th lines above,  and their
corresponding associated files in CDLI, suggested that all three
could, with some reason, be placed under one entry:

1. ur-{d}dumu-zi-da  2. dub-sar  3. dumu ur-nigar{gar} szusz3 P101851
P135491 P142770,

now = S004859; at the same time, this merge demonstrates the creeping
hypercorrections that must be addressed in later stages of this work,
since P101851 was a Nippur slave sale contract sealed by an Ur-Dumuzi,
but certainly not the son of Ur-Nigar, as in the other two
witnesses--both from Umma. Such errors have many fathers, but high
among them in impact was the fact that, to make things manageable, we
removed tags in the transliterations that indicated (occasionally
doubtful) text reconstruction.

Expert users will notice many such mistakes and omissions in CDLI seal
annotations. But I tend to finish stages of such bulk tasks in the
database, and post the results online "to have something to look at."
An initial parsing of text proveniences has demonstrated to me,
nevertheless, that the composite entries could, with exceptions of
course, assume the same provenience as their witness artifacts. I
suspect, further, that exact strings can be interpreted to act in a
highly discriminatory fashion to keep discrete seal legends linked to
single users, i.e., that the availability of better prosopographical
tools will not result in very substantial numbers of differentiations
in existing seal identifications. I cannot address the question of
whether better iconographic annotations will lead to many such
necessary disambiguations in future; probably not, but such
legend-duplicates as those of the physical artifacts registered at
<> and <> suggest
that we do have a problem. The same iconography issue can be seen in
seal impressions. The legend usz-mu / dub-sar / dumu lugal-sa6-ga has
in some instances legend cases that are of the same length (P104992,
P125183 = S005503), in others with the first two cases short and the
last one longer, framing a small figure (P118486, P108308, P119870,
P120363: human, P101491: a bird, P100596, P102644: a griffin!)
standing behind a larger one (= S005502 & S005503,
<>; all from Umma).

A few random notes to "CDLI Seals" follow.

As with the earlier general cleansing of CDLI's Ur III files
(<>), the seals
work was not well served by current photo documentation; images
recently done by Klaus Wagensonner, for instance of the Ryland texts
(<>; compare
<> hand copy and photo!), have
demonstrated the pattern recognition advantages of raking light
imaging using digital cameras and RTI scanning technology (I can
report on a bridge technique taught me by Michael Heinle to improve
chances of reading difficult seal impressions: copy the online image
to desktop, load in Photoshop and invert the colors). But even old
hand copies, or more common flatbed or camera imaging, are a great
improvement over nothing at all. It is, for example, common in
transliteration publications that two-column legends are listed as a
single column; this led to duplication entries that will in future
need to be reduced to a single, two-column legend. We might further
suspect that in a good number of legends with a three-line royal
introduction rather than the normal four lines (RN / lugal/nita kal-ga
/ lugal uri5{ki}-ma / lugal an ub-da limmu2-ba), the third line is
usually lugal uri5{ki}-ma-ke4, with -ke4 omitted in cases that,
without photo documentation, must remain doubtful. In another
instance, the common ensi2-seal of Ayakalla of Umma is found in sixty
examples (both writings a-a-kal-la and a-kal-la) with col. i l. 2
lugal kal-ga, but only in five cases with nita kal-ga; all five cases,
however, were edited by Ozaki & Sigrist in BPOA 1 and 7--BM and Yale
texts--with no image documentation. The nita kal-ga entries have been
assigned to S005898-S005899 (a-a- and a- versions), but may on
inspection turn out to be S000033. Or another still:
<> is a very poorly written text, with the
impression of a defectively cut seal legend; so, an accounting school
text with a throw-away seal? We can check the Free Library of
Philadelphia image of the seal impression, but the potential matches
BPOA 2, 2325, and BPOA 6, 481, are from BM and Yale, respectively, and
therefore not subject to online inspection; thus, IDs S005327-S005327
may in fact represent the same ancient seal. Though improved by the
apparatus of partial hand copies used by recent editors of Istanbul Ur
III texts in the series MVN and UTI, the Arkeoloji Müzeleri texts are
comparably wanting of image support.

The new entry of seal IDs excluded all or nearly all legends that
seemed too ambivalent, i.e., any incomplete legend whose possible
reconstructions permitted two or more possibilities among existing
entries. These, currently 1652 incomplete seal legends were tagged
with the general dummy marker 'Sx' to enable new eyes with better
analytical tools to locate them later. In one example,
<> has now

1. lugal-za3-ge-si  2. dub-sar  3. dumu ur-{d}...,

and there are

1. lugal-za3-ge-si  2. dub-sar  3. dumu ur-{d}dumu-zi-da and
1. lugal-za3-ge-si  2. dub-sar  3. dumu ur-{d}ig-alim

on file, so P133374's legend remains among the undetermined seal
entries in CDLI. As a second example, take the case of
<> from Girsu with identified seal legend
lugal-{gesz}gigir-re / dub-sar / dumu lu2-{d}gesz-bar-e3; here,
P117739 and P141691, both from Umma, have the legend

1. lugal-{gesz}gigir-re  2. dub-sar  3. dumu ... .

While there is only one other option to choose from, it would make
little sense to opt for the seal entry from P332279 since it appears
to be from another province. Moreover, numerous possibilities for the
patronymic of the other two texts exist in the Umma corpus, though
currently none identified in CDLI legends (a search for
"lugal-{gesz}gigir-re dumu" in CDLI results in giri3-ni, szesz-kal-la,
lugal-ma2-gur8-re-ke4, bar-ra-an, ur-{d}isztaran, lugal-nig2-lagar-e,
ur-sukkal, ur-li, ur-nigar{gar}, and lugal-kisal, all as fathers
listed in the body of the accounts, exclusively in Umma texts).

Distinguishing uszur3 from uszur4, that often correspond to different
glyphs in the inscriptions (including uszurx(|LAL2.TUG2|), can be
vexing without image documentation exists; the only clear example of
uszurx in a seal legend is i7-pa-e3 / dumu lugal-uszurx(|LAL2.TUG2|) /
nu-banda3-gu4 {d}szara2 = S002538.

If "mu-ni," son of Akalla gudu4 of Nin-ura at Umma, is one person,
then he had (at least) four different seals:
1) mu-ni / dumu a-kal-la / gudu4 {d}nin-ur4-ra
4x Amar-Suen 7, 8 & 9, 6x Shu-Suen 1, 2
2) mu-ni / dumu a-a-kal-la / gudu4 {d}nin-ur4-ra
10x Shu-Suen 3
3) mu-ni dub-sar / dumu a-kal-la gudu4
4x Shu-Suen 4
4) mu-ni dub-sar / dumu a-a-kal-la / gudu4 {d}nin-ur4-ra
1x Shu-Suen 9, 18x Ibbi-Suen 1, 3

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