Bill Pratt

Bill Pratt

Bill Pratt

Collection Technician (Egypt and West Asia) - Retired


Bill says 'caring for a collection of artifacts in a museum is akin to managing a library of books'. He combines a background in biblical studies and librarianship as custodian of more than 100,000 artifacts in the Royal Ontario Museum's Ancient Near Eastern, Islamic, Egyptian, Nubian and Prehistory collections.

His interests include computer database management, photography and web design. His passion is collecting music ephemera and recordings from the 1920's and earlier, along with the phonographs on which to play the original 78s and cylinders.

He is Membership Secretary, Treasurer and Archivist for the Canadian Antique Phonograph Society (CAPS). He also contributes articles to its bi-monthly publication, Antique Phonograph News, and manages its website.

My Favourite ROM Object

In use for more than 3000 years, cylinder seals provide a fascinating visual record of both religious beliefs and daily life in the Ancient Near East. Seals are carved with a design in reverse. When pressed into or rolled over a material such as soft clay, they leave an impression in relief. The act of sealing marked ownership.

Introduced about the same time as the development of writing (about 3200 BC), cylinder seals were commonly rolled over inscribed tablets to add a signature and an official status to the transaction recorded on the tablet. Soft stones such as serpentine were popular because they were easy to carve.

From about 2900 to 2200 BC, a period when rival city-states were vying for power, contest scenes depicting heroes and mythical figures in combat with animals were a popular theme. Inscriptions in cuneiform identifying the owner of the seal appear for the first time during this period.

The cylinder seal below, ROM accession number 994.233.17, is made of serpentine and is 3.5 x 2.2 cm. It dates to the Akkadian period in Mesopotamia (about 2200 BC). The naturalistic sculptural quality of the carving, clearly evident in the modern impression, and the use of monumental imagery are recognizable features of Akkadian seals. They represent the finest achievements of Near Eastern artisans.

The seal depicts a typical contest scene: a nude bearded hero fights a bull while a lion fights a bearded bull-man. The inscription identifies the seal's owner as "Shu-ili-su, the beer-maker". He must have been a person of high social standing to have had such a fine seal.

Cylinder seal with modern impression

                  Property of a Mesopotamian beer-maker