The earliest form of communication, adornment and more importantly the authentication of documents were through Glyptology. Glyptology simply refers to the art of engraving on stones and different kinds of metals. Engraving on stone has been around for thousands of years. The oldest stone engraving, cave etching, according to scientists date back to around 37,000 B.C. Engravings on precious metals, such as copper, gold and silver, can be documented as far back as 5,000 B.C. Ancient Sumerians were major practitioners of this art form and their cuneiform tablet engravings has led to countless numbers of conspiracy theories such as alien visits and so on. The other common forms of glyptology can be found in seals, cameos and intaglios.
Seals, mostly in the shape of cylinders, were created in the Near East around 3,000 B.C. They were carved from stones and the engravings on them, carved in low relief, were always commemorative and administrative in nature. They were pressed into wet clay to leave an impression of their design. They were used to seal vessels, consign goods and usually placed on door latches of storerooms to ascertain whether the contents stored within had been tampered with or not. The hardened impression became a permanent record, a sign of ownership. The designs on the seals usually depict a narrative which is often religious or political in nature. The religious-themed seals typically depict figures congregating around an altar in an act of worship; some are also laden with different religious iconographies such as the crescent moon, stars, and serpents. The politically-themed ones usually depict the ruler, at the time, in a moment of chivalry and bravery – such as brandishing a weapon or chasing away a wild beast. Some seals however, simply depict scenes from nature mostly featuring animals and plants.
The art of engraving is also adapted to jewelry making. Cameos and intaglios are examples of jewelry attributed to glyptology. Both have relief images, the difference however is that Cameos feature a raised (positive) relief; while intaglios have low (inverted) relief. Stone cameos of great artistry were made in Greece dating back as far as the 6th century BC. They were very popular in Ancient Rome, and one of the most famous stone cameos from this period is the Gemma Claudia made for the Emperor Claudius. Cameos have since enjoyed periodic revivals, notably in the early Renaissance, and again in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Like Cameos, Intaglios were also popular in Rome. The shapes of the gems cut in Rome or for the Romans do not differ much from those of the Hellenistic Greek world. Circular stones are perhaps less common and oval ones rather broader. The subjects chosen for engraving were notables, generals and emperors. Heads and figures of divinities are common, especially those most favored by the Romans or appropriate as signet devices like Fortuna. Intaglios can be used on different forms of jewelry such as pendants, rings, tie clips and more.