Iconographic analysis
of Mesopotamian seals

Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati

What linguistic analysis is to traces of sound as found in writing,
iconographic analysis is to traces of vision as found in the figurative arts.

Iconographic analysis for a broken tradition, such as the one of Mesopotamia, rests two major approaches.

The grammatical approach identifies the figures on the basis of their referential property, and may be called figurative analysis: thus, a certain shape is identified as a male human being, seated on a certain chair, and wearing a certain type of clothes.

The hermeneutic approach is based on a distributional analysis of figurative traits, and is correlated to other traits as well: thus, the same seated figure is identified as a king with a given name as known from a cuneiform legend on the same seal.

In this website we offer first a presentation of the theoretical basis underlying our approach, including a definition of the grammatical categories used (roster and lexicon) and the method for arriving at a hermeneutic understanding of the inherent meaning.

Next we publish the application of the system to two corpora of Mesopotamian seals, from the Old Assyrian and the Old Babylonian period respectively. Reference is also made to the implementation of the system for the Urkesh corpus.

This is then a structural approach, that aims at establishing a rigorous distinction of the component parts in order to arrive at a better understanding of each seal as a whole.

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