From Soap to Seal
Learn how to make your own seal inspired by those from the ancient Near East.
Time: up to 60 minutes
Age Range: 5 and up
How old are seals?
Stamp seals and cylinder seals from the ancient Near East were used in Mesopotamia in the 6th millennium BCE—almost 8,000 years ago!
How were they used?
The earliest seals were used to keep track of who bought and sold an item. Later on, seals were also used as a way to mark ownership or a person’s identity and may have been used as amulets to protect against bad luck. Seals were stamped or rolled onto soft clay to seal and secure jars, doors, and boxes, which also showed who owned them. For this reason, seals can tell a story about the owner of the seal and daily life of the ancient Near East.
Now let’s create our own seal!
What you need
- Air-dry clay
- 1 bar of soap
- Other options include:
- A wax candle
- Carving tools:
- Paperclips – perfect for digging and creating curves
- Toothpicks – for hard-to-reach places
- Spoons – great for scooping
- Popsicle sticks – to carve bigger shapes
- Paintbrush – to brush away soap shavings
- Paper – to plan your idea and create a sketch
- Pencil – to trace your sketch
- Plastic knife – for an adult to help you make your soap into a cylinder shape
Step One: Brainstorm a meaningful symbol
What are you going to put on your seal? The images on ancient seals were important symbols that showed people's interests, jobs, or backgrounds. Pick a symbol that means something to you.
Step Two: Sketch your symbol
Before turning your bar of soap into a cylinder, you need to plan out your design. To get started, mark the length of the soap on your paper. This will help make sure your design is the appropriate size. Then, sketch the design you will carve into your cylinder seal.
Step Three: Turn your soap bar into a cylinder
Draw a circle on the top of the soap. Ask an adult to trim the soap using a plastic knife until you have a cylinder shape.
Step Four: Draw your design onto the cylinder
You can draw directly on the soap. If you need extra help, try tracing your sketch onto the cylinder by wrapping the paper around the soap. Then, go over your drawing with your pencil to create an outline.
Step Five: Making your design
Carve into the cylinder. The carved spaces will create raised figures in your impression. Before rolling your cylinder, use a paint brush to clean out the carved spaces.
Step Six: Press and Roll
When you finish your cylinder seal, roll it along a piece of clay. Make sure to press hard, so that the clay picks up all the details!
Step Seven: Share
Make sure to share your artwork with the museum and post your photo to social media with #FreerSackler