Narrative is a deep structure independent of its medium. In other words, narrative is basically
a kind of text organization and that organization, that schema, needs to be actualized: in writ-
ing words, as in stories and novels, in spoken words combined with the movement of actors
imitating characters against sets which imitate places as plays and films; in drawings; in comic
strips; in dance movements, as in narrative ballet and in mime; and even in music, at least in
program music of the order of Peter and the Wolf.
— SEYMOUR CHATMAN1
IN THIS CHAPTER I turn to glyptic, the art of carving seals, which like ceramic painting has its roots deep in prehistory.2 I will propose that, as with pottery painting, glyptic compositions changed with the advent of writing. After analyzing the evolution of a single seal assemblage, that of Tepe Gawra in northern Mesopotamia, I will compare and contrast seal compositions—how designs were organized on the face of seals—before, at the time of, and after the invention of writing. I will show that at the first stage, preliterate circular compositions merely evoked ideas. At stage two, protoliterate seals told simple stories by adopting the linear mode of writing and creating a “syntax”—an established order to connect figures. And at stage three, after literacy had become well established, glyptic art was able to tell complex stories by pushing the ground line convention to new subtleties and developing a repertory of status markers imitating the determinative signs of cuneiform writing. First, I briefly introduce the art of seal carving in the ancient Near East and the Tepe Gawra glyptic assemblage.
Seals were used to identify individuals or offices responsible for shipping, registering, and storing merchandise.3 Goods transported in jars, baskets, sacks, or bundles were secured with strings, and a patch of clay was affixed on the terminal knot bearing the seal of the sender or recipient. Seals were also applied to envelopes holding tokens or