Palm print on Structure Ten pottery sherd left by an adult male

Neolithic palm print on a pottery sherd from the interior of Structure Ten. (Jan Blatchford)

Neolithic palm print on a pottery sherd from the interior of Structure Ten. (Jan Blatchford)

“I think we’ve got a palm print.”

Those were the words of our pottery specialist Roy Towers at Ness HQ a few weeks ago.

And he was right.

Detailed Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) photographs of the suspected print were produced by Jan Blatchford and sent to Professor Kent Fowler, the director of the University of Manitoba’s Ceramic Technology Laboratory in Winnipeg, Canada. He has now confirmed the palm print was left by a man around 22 years old.

The principal lines, regions, ridge and minutiae of a palm print. (Dai, J. & Zhou. J. 2010. Multifeature based high-resolution palm print recognition)

The principal lines, regions, ridge and minutiae of a palm print. (Dai, J. & Zhou. J. 2010. Multifeature based high-resolution palm print recognition)

The palm print is from the hypothenar region of the hand – opposite the thumb – and Prof Fowler’s conclusion follows the detailed analysis of breadth and density of the ridges visible on the 5,000-year-old impression.

“The data suggests that this handprint was produced by an adult male approximately 22 years of age,” he said.

“These results conform with the results of the fingerprint analyses of the three other sherds from the Ness of Brodgar. All six analysed prints belong to males. Three of the prints fall in the adult range, one in the older adolescent range and two in the younger adolescent range.”

Prof Fowler added: “The resulting combination of finger and palm prints from the Ness of Brodgar is unique.”

The palm print was found on a pottery sherd retrieved from a robber cut inside Structure Ten. At some point after it was abandoned, around 2400BC,  people returned and dug into the building’s remains to extract stone.

A trench was carefully cut through the midden and rubble filling Structure Ten and then, after the required stone was removed, backfilled. The palm print sherd came from the upper fill of the robber cut on Structure Ten’s western side.

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