Art, Art History and Design, School of


First Advisor

Philip Sapirstein

Third Advisor

Michael Hoff

Date of this Version



Stram, C. 2017 "The Talismanic Seal Stone of Crete - A Re-evaluation." Master's Thesis, Department of Art and Art History, University of Nebraska - Lincoln, 2017.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College of the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: Art History, Under the Supervision of Professor Philip Sapirstein, Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 2017

Copyright (c) 2017 Catherine Stram


This thesis presents a re-evaluation of the talismanic seal stones of Crete. Its purpose is to present previous scholarship on these seal stones, introduce the reader to a new way of recording and viewing seal stones through Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), and to offer the data from a study on 384 talismanic seal stones.

Seals were small stones or pieces of wood or ivory with intaglio, meaning designs were cut into their surface in order to create a relief when stamped in wet clay or a similar substance. They served several purposes: as identification, as a way of showing ownership, as a magical charm, and as portable art or jewelry. By around 2500 BCE, seal stones were in use on the island of Crete. Most of these seal stones were used for their sphragistic properties – that is, authenticating documents or otherwise securing property. The talismanic stones, categorized by Sir Arthur Evans, were rarely used in this way. Evans believed these stones were worn as magical charms or talismans. His idea has been criticized, but today we are no closer to ascertaining how this type of seal stone was used.

For this study, the data on 384 talismanic seal stones was collected and organized. RTI was performed on 12 seal stones, as a new way of making digital surrogates and learning more information about the stone surface. The results of this study are presented here to clear up some of the confusion surrounding the talismanic seal stone of Crete.

Advisor: Philip Sapirstein