Of Sieves and Sealings

One of our current side projects is sieving a lot of soil left over from the campaign last year. In this soil we expect to have a load of small sealing imprints, left over from the ancient city archive of Doliche.

Already before the excavations conducted by our team, Doliche was known for the amount of sealings found at the site. These sealings, or more correctly sealing impressions, are made to seal scrolls, mostly important documents, that were stored in the archive. Basically, they represent the negative imprint made by a sealing-ring of a private or public person. The archive of Doliche existed during the Roman period and was burned down during the cities’ destruction by the Sassanian King Shapur I. This represents a stroke of luck for us, as the sealing impressions are originally made out of clay. Therefore, during the fire, the sealings were fired into ceramic which is how we are able to find them today.

As we excavated parts of the probable archive location last year, the possibility of finding those sealings in the remaining soil is high. The problem is however, that they are so tiny, that we can’t see or find them during the excavation process. That is why we have a wet-sieve at the field to sieve the soil containing the sealings.

So this year we have one team working at the sieve to retrieve the sealings from last years soil. The sieve consists of two actual rusts which have a rough and a fine gradient to catch and separate the tiny and the big stones. After filling the sieve with soil, we work it through the sieve, so that only stones, sealings and other bigger pieces remain in the sieve. All excess soil will fall through the rust.

However, the sealings are still hard to spot as they are covered with dust, and they blend in with the other stones and material. That’s why we use a wet-sieve technique in this case. The whole sieve will be then flooded with water and the material will be washed. After this the sealings can then be sorted out and separated. You still need a good eye for the small buggers though! The amount of sealings that we can get out of the soil after a days work ranges around the one hundred.

Sealings as a findgroup show remarkable craftsmanship and a wide variety of depictions of animals, people, gods and inscriptions. Between public and private sealings there are hundreds of different kinds of depictions and there is always the possibility to find new ones during the sieving process. And quite frankly some of these pieces can be breathtakingly beautiful!

by Fynn Riepe

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