Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Scaraboid Stamp Seal: Recumbent Bull with Bird Perched on Back
Work Type
400-300 BCE
Classical period, Late
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Brown chalcedony
2.3 cm (7/8 in.)
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Jonathan H. Kagan
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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This chalcedony scaraboid stamp seal features an image of a recumbent zebu bull with a large bird on its back. The bull’s body and head are rounded, and his legs, which are thin and knobby, are folded beneath him. Two straight horns rise from the top of his head, and an ear is indicated at the back of the head. The bird stands on the bull’s hindquarters. It has a straight beak and a swell at its chest. It holds one wing slightly raised.

The zebu, marked by its distinctive hump, first appears on Mesopotamian seals in the early second millennium BCE (1), and continues down into the fifth and fourth centuries, to period to which this seal likely belongs (2). The depiction of a bird on the bull’s back is quite unusual, and occurs primarily on a group of seals believed to have been made in the late eighth century BCE in southern Anatolia (3). Its appearance on this seal must be a survival or revival of this earlier motif, and may also suggest an eastern Mediterranean origin for it.


1. D. T. Potts, Mesopotamian Civilization: The Material Foundations (London, 1997) 254-7.

2. E.g., D. Collon, First Impressions: Cylinder Seals in the Ancient Near East (Chicago, 1987) no. 907; J. Boardman, Greek Gems and Finger Rings: Early Bronze Age to Late Classical (London, 1970) nos. 985-6.

3. J. Boardman and G. Buchner, “Seals from Ischia and the Lyre-Player Group,” Jahrbuch des deutschen archäologischen Instituts 81 (1966) 1-62.

This record was created from historic documentation and may not have been reviewed by a curator; it may be inaccurate or incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at