Bank on Aegean Subjects
DBAS - @egeanLab

DBAS CHS - Cretan Hieroglyphic Seals


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The database of Hieroglyphic and related seals of Middle Minoan Glyptic
A.M. Jasink, L. Bombardieri
F. Carminati
, C. Faralli (technical support)

The database, as a digital study of the wide corpus of Middle Minoan Glyptic, can raise every single association among the different elements of the seal set, considering graphic and iconographic elements at the same level. In this way every association pattern is verifiable and possibly some of the elements which are traditionally considered simply iconographic could be reconsidered as part of the Hieroglyphic system and viceversa.

This database, processing the data, produces a quantitative and qualitative analysis of the recurrences, founded on statistic grounds. First we devised three main steps in filing the seals, which move from general to particular:

  • Identification
  • Description
  • Classification

The first one deals with the basic reference of the seal, such as the provenance (site, area or, whenever not available, simply general provenance), the context of finding (funerary context, palace or domestic context or, if indicated, storage rooms or workshops context), the collection (museums or private collections) and the identification number both of CMS and CHIC. The second step is the description of the general aspect or the so-called factual elements of the whole seal, which includes the dimensions, the material and the shape. For the dimensions it is enough to input simply the linear measurement of seal found in the CMS or CHIC repertoires, otherwise for the materials and shapes we had to carry out two specific and closed lists, worked out checking and selecting the given definitions in the different repertoires. For the list of the materials we sorted out 23 types of materials (steatite, calcite, haematite, obsidian, chalcedony, agate, cornelian, jasper, amethyst, rock crystal, marble, conglomerate, basalt, lavic stones, onyx, sardonyx, quartz, serpentine, bone, ivory, bronze, silver, gold) organized in 4 main families (soft stones, hard stones, bones and ivory, metals). For the typological list of the seal shapes we distinguished 27 types mostly choosing the definitions founded on basic morphological features (and so related to geometric solids) and otherwise maintaining the most diffused and common definitions (3-sided prism, 4-sided prism, 8-sided prism, 4-sided bar, cylinder, cube, hemicylinder, hemispheroid, amygdaloid, elliptical, bordered disc, bordered discoid, discoid, lentoid, bell-shape, signet, foliate back, cushion, conoid, gables, wedge, zoomorphic shape, scarab, pitcher, cross shape, pyramid, flat cylinder). The third step of storing the seals is the Classification, which represents the most deep and complex analysis of the seal, based on the screening of the figurative field and the study of the different elements on it.

We sorted Three Levels which can define the Classification system:

  • Element (definition of the elements)
  • Character (definition of the character of the elements)
  • Composition (composition of the elements or syntax) /Association (combination with other elements)

The first Level allows us to identify every single element and distinguish it using a definition system based on a list of 8 families (animals, flora, geometric patterns, human figures, tools, vessels, artefacts, scripts) where more then 100 elements are sorted. We decided to keep the CHIC numeration for the just identified Hieroglyphics signs, so that we input all the script signs in the data base following the ID number of Olivier and Godart (1996). The second Level deals with the character of the element we have described at the first Level; it means the role of the element in the scene and so its nature, which can be principal (in the case of a main motif) or secondary (in the different case of a filling motif). The third one is the Level of the composition, through which we can define the reciprocal relations among the elements in the scene. Also in this case the first aim was to clarify the composition in the most objective way: so we decided to select a reduced series of relations which can be reciprocal or even better reversible and can be easily identified in the space; these are the common space relation (such as standing above and the opposite standing below, standing right to and standing left to, standing back, standing around, standing right up to, right down to, left up or left down to).

If every face of the seal is described following this classification sequence, we finally can obtain a statistic analysis of the relations among the elements (Hieroglyphic and Iconographic) not just considering the single face scene, but more widely taking into account all the faces of all the Hieroglyphic seals.


The search through the DBAS - CHS data base gives a series of issues, from a general to a specific one.

  1. How many seals, with a specific sign, are available and the multiple appearance of the sign on the same seal.
  2. Provenance, chronology, place of preservation (e.g. Museum).
  3. Material and typology of the seal on which the sign appears.
  4. Character (primary or secondary) of the sign inside the figurative field, depending on the dimension of the sign in relation to the others. With regard to this, it is interesting to see if a sign has both a "writing" and a decorative value.
  5. Position of the sign compared to the others inside the figurative background: at the beginning, in central position or at the end of the sequence of the imprinted signs.

Each query gives data in percentage, which allows for objective conclusions and new hypotheses.
In conclusion we sorted out three types of queries to make the use of the data base easier:

  • General search, dedicated to site, shape, material and context queries
  • Specific search, dedicated to the Classification System, sorted by single Elements and Elements' Associations. This kind of search is organized in four oriented queries: the first allows to get the recurrence of a single element within the whole Corpus. The second allows to get all the relations between one element and the others. The third allows to get the recurrences of a specific association between two single elements. The fourth allows the recurrences of a specific association between two hieroglyphic elements.
  • Crossed search, dedicated to wider and more complex queries, in which the third kind of the specific search is combined with the general search.
    The data base is on a server where a distribution of OS Linux from the third release of Red Hat enterprise edition has been installed, with web server Apache 2.0, PHP 4.3.2 and MySQL 4.1.11. The DBMS is MySQL 4.1.11, and the input and consultation interfaces are programmed with PHP language.

The drawings and photos of the seals and sealing filed in this database are reproduced on-line thank to the permission of Prof. Ingo Pini and the Akademie der Wissenschaften u. der Literatur, for CMS volumes, and of Proff. J.-P. Olivier, L. Godart and l'École Francaise d'Athènes for the CHIC volume. The reproduced materials are only for personal use and for scientific and educational purposes.


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