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12483Query about fingernail impressions

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  • Judith Lerner
    May 19, 2010
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      Greetings, All:

      It's not unusual in the ANE for a fingernail to be used in place of an
      actual seal when signing or witnessing a document (one often sees a row of
      nail-marks, s[dot under the s]upru). We have examples of tablets with
      fingernail impressions from the Ur III through the Achaemenid periods. It
      seems, however, that reeds, cut to leave a crescent-shaped mark, were also
      used, as well as pieces of clay, which, when impressed on the tablet, leave
      a thumbnail-shaped impression-that is, not just the mark left when you press
      the tip of your nail into the clay, but the impression or outline of your
      complete thumbnail.

      Writing about this supposed practice, Max Mallowan observes ("Excavations at
      Nimrud, 1949-1950" Iraq 12, 1950: 173) that "associated with the Nimrud
      tablets there were little cushion-shaped pieces of terracotta with incurving
      sides, which look as if they were used for that purpose; for when stamped on
      wet clay they reproduce exactly the curved nail-mark of the supru."

      Has anyone seen photographs of or actually encountered these "cushion-shaped
      pieces"? Or know of something similar in another context? Also, how were
      these thumbnail seals (if that's what they are) "associated" with the
      tablets archaeologically?

      With thanks in advance,

      Judith Lerner

      New York, NY

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