National Geographic : 1946 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine Staff Photographer B. Anthony Stewart Scarab, Ram, and Other Figures Reveal the Seal-making Skill of the Ancients The hemispherical seal of chalcedony (translucent quartz) and its impression at lower left show a ram with a crescent and star representing Babylonian divinities. The crescent is for Sin, the moon-god, and the star for Ishtar, goddess of love. The seal was found near Aleppo, Syria. The cylinder seal of hematite (iron ore), at lower right beside its rectangular rolled impression, is Assyrian. It was found on Cyprus, which was conquered by the Assyrians under Sargon in 707 B.C . The scarab, or dung beetle, was sacred to the Egyptians, who used it as a motif for the carved stone or gem also termed "scarab." Those shown include the top and engraved lower side of the Hyksos type, 1700 B.C. (page 3). The ring is a scarab in a modern setting. Seals with emblematic designs long antedate the escutcheon (shield of arms), and so they form one basis for a study of the development of heraldry. Once heraldry had won a place for itself, the seal with a heraldic design was popular; it was the armorial seal of Europe which supplied the inspiration for many colonial seals. Many seals used by States and Government Departments today are heraldic, at least in intent, although discrepancies between the seals and the laws of heraldry indicate that those laws were sometimes imperfectly under stood by the designers. George Washington wrote: "It is far from my design to intimate an opinion, that her aldry, coat-armour, etc., might not be rendered conducive to public and private use with us; or that they can have any tendency unfriendly to the purest spirit of republicanism. On the contrary, a different conclusion is deducible from the practice of Congress and the States; all of which have established some kind of Armorial Devices, to authenticate their official documents." Some States and Departments prescribe the designs for their seals in heraldic terms. In describing the individual seals in this article, heraldic terms have been avoided, for the most part, since they form a technical vocabulary largely based on Norman-French, or Anglo French, of the period, which would have little meaning to the nontechnical reader. "Dexter" and "sinister" mean the right and left of the design itself (page 35). In the descriptions, however, the words "right" and "left" are used to indicate the position of objects from the reader's point of view. All the deviations from the laws of heraldry are not due to designers. In some cases devices emblematic of the States or Federal Government Departments were chosen with no attempt to represent them heraldically, or, as in the case of Vir ginia, a conscious effort was made to avoid any suggestion of heraldry. Moreover, the original designs were often cluttered by additional devices prescribed by legislative amendments. Many States ob tained their seals only after bitter debate.