Carve a Cuneiform Cylinder Seal Activity

3.6 based on 52 ratings
Updated on Sep 16, 2011

One of the most iconic artifacts from ancient Mesopotamia is the cylinder seal. These were usually carved out of clay or precious stone and featured a unique pattern to verify someone's identity and “seal” important documents. Travel to ancient Mesopotamia with your kids by carving your own unique cuneiform cylinder seals. This hands-on activity is the perfect way to get your child interested in ancient cultures and history.

What You Need:

  • Air dry clay
  • Small dish of water for re-moistening clay as needed
  • Sharp tool to incise the clay with (even an unfolded paper clip will work)
  • Paint or stamp pad

What You Do:

  1. Give your child a chunk of clay about the size of his fist.
  2. Have him roll the clay into a cylinder about the same thickness and about half as long as a roll of quarters, making it as smooth as possible.
  3. If the clay gets too dry, have him re-moisten it with a few drops of water.
  4. Using a sharp tool (like an unfolded paper clip or the tine of a fork), have him incise a design into the clay around the entire circumference of the cylinder. Remind him that any letters or words must be carved in backwards.
  5. Allow the clay to dry. This may take a day or two.
  6. Once dry, ask him to dip the cylinder seal in acrylic paint or ink it on a stamp pad and roll it onto a sheet of paper to reveal the design.
  7. Now he has his own personal cylinder seal for verifying important documents!

This craft also makes a great family activity. Get the family together and have each person make their own unique clay seal so everyone can make their mark!

Daniella K. Garran is a seventh grade social studies teacher who lives on Cape Cod. She has published several articles about project-based learning. She spends summers working as an assistant director of a camp on the Cape.

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