Fingerprints dating back 5,000 years have been discovered on an ancient pottery vessel. Fingerprints are like a person’s unique signature that nobody else has and the fact that they were found on such an old object is like looking into the past of those who created it.
Back in April of this year, it was reported that a fingerprint had been found on a pottery vessel at the Ness of Brodgar archaeological site in Orkney, Scotland. The print was found on just one of the many items unearthed at the site (more than 80,000 pottery sherds have been recovered) – it is the biggest collection of late Neolithic Grooved Ware pottery that’s ever been found in the United Kingdom.
As for how the print got onto the vessel, it is believed that when the potter created the clay piece 5,000 years ago, the person’s finger probably pressed down onto the wet surface which ended up leaving the now-hardened print. Imaging technology (Reflectance Transformation Imaging) was used to date the pottery as well as the print left behind.
But that’s not the end of the story, as two more fingerprints have recently been discovered on the same pottery vessel. These additional prints belonged to a pair of young male potters – one was between 13 and 20 years old, while the other was between the ages of 15 and 22.
Nick Card, who is the director of the Ness of Brodgar excavation, went into further details about the discovery of the prints and the questions that remain in regards to who made the vessel, “The creation of this pot involved an adolescent boy – did he fashion the vessel or was he just involved in the manufacturing process, perhaps overseen by a more experienced potter?” “Were all children engaged in the creation of pottery from an early age or was it a task that involved a select few? Were different types of vessel created by different people within the household or community?”
Professor Kent Fowler, who is the director of the University of Manitoba’s Ceramic Technology Laboratory in Winnipeg, Canada, and who found the prints, gave his opinion about those who created the piece, “Although the prints exhibit identical average ages, there is little overlap in the ridge values between the two measured prints. This suggests one print was made by an adolescent male and the other by an adult male.”
He went on to say that “…hands are normally only placed within closed-form vessels when fashioning roughouts and while manipulating the object to modify the exterior by wiping, smoothing burnishing,” suggesting that the two outer prints were made by whoever was shaping and smoothing out the item, while the internal print would have been made by the potter.
A picture of one of the prints can be seen here.