Earlier this year, CA reported the discovery of prehistoric fingerprints on a sherd of Late Neolithic Grooved Ware from the Ness of Brodgar in Orkney (see CA 376 and CA 377). These were interpreted as traces of adult or adolescent males. Now two further prints, found on a separate sherd, have been identified as those of a 13-year-old boy, hinting at a wide range of ages being involved in Neolithic pottery production.
The latest fingerprints were discovered by Jan Blatchford and Roy Towers from the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) Archaeology Institute. They were then examined by Professor Kent Fowler, Director of the University of Manitoba’s Ceramic Technology Laboratory in Winnipeg, Canada, who analysed the prints’ ridge-patterns, finding that both were male and had been left by individuals around 13 and 14 years old. Kent thinks it ‘likely’ that the two prints belonged to the same person.
Although just eight Neolithic fingerprints have been found across three sherds of pottery from the Ness, Kent sees a pattern emerging. ‘The presence of younger and older prints on all the Orkney sherds so far is interesting and might relate to teaching and learning the craft. On Bronze Age pottery from the Levant, we found multiple prints of different age and sex, some of the same sex with different ages. I argued this was a “hands-on” approach to teaching, which is something we can still see ethnographically,’ he said.
Nevertheless, Kent explained that some potters ‘let novices work out shaping techniques on their own, after observing,’ adding that ‘there can be no argument that we must have prints of younger and older potters on the same pot to make a case for knowledge transmission of the craft.’
UHI’s Nick Card, Director of the excavation, commented: ‘Although we need more examples to confirm the emerging patterns we appear to be seeing, with almost 100,000 sherds of Grooved Ware from the Ness we are confident that our eagle-eyed team will discover more as analysis progresses. The potential of these results to shed light on Neolithic pottery production is huge.’