Bitumen cylinder seal (left), modern impression (above right), and line drawing of impression (below right). Early-Middle Elamite period, c. 1600 BC. Tepe Sharafabad, Iran. Near Eastern Archaeology, UMMA Expedition. Field no. 254.

We don’t often think of bitumen, or asphalt, as a raw material useful for making artifacts. Yet that’s exactly what was used to make the object on the left in this photo. It is a cylinder seal, dating to around 1600 BC, excavated by curator Henry Wright at the site of Tepe Sharafabad in southwestern Iran. Cylinder seals were rolled across soft clay placed to secure the contents of vessels, storerooms, or bales of goods. The clay impressions allowed bureaucrats and administrators to monitor contents and protect them from pilfering. In this photo, the cylinder seal itself is shown on the left, while its modern impression and simplified line drawing appear on the right. Around the seal, three or four distinct standing figures hold objects in their left hand.

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In honor of the University of Michigan’s 2017 bicentennial, we are celebrating the remarkable archaeological and ethnographic collections and rich legacy of research and teaching at the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology by posting one entry a day for 200 days. The entries will highlight objects from the collections, museum personalities, and UMMAA expeditions. The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology is also posting each day for 200 days on Twitter and Facebook (follow along at #KMA200). After the last post, an exhibition on two centuries of archaeology at U-M opens at the Kelsey. Visit the exhibit—a joint project of the UMMAA and the Kelsey—from October 18, 2017 to May 27, 2018.