Although well known from Roman times on, and still in use today in parts of the Near East and North Africa, two early threshing implements—the tribulum or threshing board and the plostellum punicum or threshing wheel—appear now to be documented in ceremonial contexts in the ancient Near East. The first may be identified on three figured documents of the Uruk and Jemdet Nasr periods and the second in cuneiform texts of the Early Dynastic period. A recently published cylinder-seal impression, an unpublished cylinder seal and a long-known, small stone plaque in the British Museum provide early illustrations.
The seal impression, of Uruk style, from recent excavations at Arslantepe, near Malatya in southeastern Anatolia, preserves the greater part of a scene centering around what has been described as “a regal figure in a sledge vehicle” (Fig. 1). The figure is on a seat with short legs and beneath an arched baldaquin. Roughly rounded projections at front and rear of the seat suggest litter-pole terminals, an interpretation supported by two early documents from Egypt. One is king Narmer's macehead (Fig. 2) which illustrates a figure seated in an arched litter, the latter's legs set on the ground and its carrying poles—with terminals—shortened to conform to the available space. The other is the reconstructed open litter of queen Hetepheres, showing actual pole terminals reminiscent in profile of those mentioned above.