In last month’s News, we reported on a fingerprint found on a piece of pottery excavated at the Ness of Brodgar in Orkney – tangible evidence of the people living at the famous Neolithic site. Now further analysis of this sherd has revealed two more fingerprints, providing intriguing new details about prehistoric pottery production.
This latest discovery was made during scrutiny of a digital model of the sherd created by Jan Blatchford from the Archaeology Institute of the University of the Highlands and Islands. Once detected, the fingerprints were examined by Professor Kent Fowler, Director of the University of Manitoba’s Ceramic Technology Laboratory in Winnipeg, Canada. Of the three fingerprints, Kent found that two – one from the interior of the vessel and one from the exterior – were detailed enough to be able to analyse them further, assessing them for characteristics which might reveal the sex and age of the individual or individuals who made them.
By measuring the density of the fingerprint ridges, as well as the space between them – while considering factors such as the amount of shrinkage the clay most likely underwent during drying and firing – Kent found that the prints probably belonged to two different male individuals, one aged between 13 and 20 and the other between 15 and 22.
Elaborating further, Kent explained: ‘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.’
This discovery has raised many questions. As Nick Card, Director of the Ness of Brodgar excavation, said: ‘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? The analysis has much wider implications in the study of Neolithic ceramics, but we will need many more fingerprint examples before any firm conclusions can be drawn.’