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Sunday, February 21, 2016

3,000-Year-Old Egyptian Fingerprints found on Coffin Lid | Ancient Origins

3,000-Year-Old Egyptian Fingerprints found on Coffin Lid

A set of ancient fingerprints have been found on the inner surface of a coffin lid dating back to 1,000 BC, which belonged to an Egyptian priest.  The discovery brings to life our ancient past and draws us closer to the craftsmen that carved and painted the precious sarcophagi thousands of years ago.

The BBC reports that the prints were identified by researchers with the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England, ahead of a new exhibition called "Death on the Nile" on how Egyptian coffin design changed over 4,000 years.

It is believed that the prints belonged to the craftsman of the coffin, who handled the lid of the coffin before the varnish had dried, resulting in the preservation of his fingerprints until today.

The prints were "one of many small details that bring us closer to the ancient craftsmen," a museum spokeswoman said.

The fingerprints found on the inner lid of a 3,000-year-old coffin. Credit: The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Uncovering Ancient Fingerprints

The study of ancient fingerprints is known as "paleodermatoglyphics" and allows archaeologists to peer into our ancestral past and learn more about the humans who inhabited the earth centuries ago.

According to Forensic Outreach, "an ancient fingerprint is a historical snapshot of our ancestral past. They allow archeologists to study whoever came in contact with the material. This is not only the person who created the piece but a slew of others involved in manufacturing it. The type of material gives a lot of information. Prints uncovered from a ceramic artifact, bronze burial rings or historical document, give specific clues into the life of the person. Was he a craftsman or part of the educated elite?... ancient fingerprints are pervasive and can help unveil information about our ancestors that would otherwise remain a mystery."

World's Oldest Fingerprints

The newly discovered ancient Egyptian fingerprints, while rare, are not unique. Preserved fingerprints and palm prints have been found embedded in artifacts around the world dating back tens of thousands of years. 

One of the oldest sets of fingerprints and palm prints found in Egypt dates back to 1,300 BC and belong to an Ancient Egyptian baker. The prints were identified in a preserved loaf of bread that had been left as food for the afterlife in a tomb in Thebes. The dry, arid climate had allowed the organic material to be impeccably preserved, along with the imprints of the baker who kneaded the dough while it was still soft.

Ancient Egyptian bread, which retains its baker's handprints (abroad in the yard)

Other records include 5,000-year-old fingerprints found on ceramic pot shards in the Stone Age settlement of Siretorp, Sweden; 10,000-year-old fingerprints found on fragments of clay objects at the Neolithic site of Boncuklu Hoyuk in Turkey; and 26,000-year-old child fingerprints found on a ceramic statuette in the Czech Republic known as the Venus of Dolní Věstonice.

Remarkably, archaeologists have also identified pre-human fingerprints belonging to a Neanderthal weapon maker who lived some 80,000 years ago in what is now the Königsaue region in Germany. His fingerprint was found on an organic substance used as a glue made from birch bark, which had been applied to attach a piece of flint to a wooden handle. 


From Left to Right: 10,000-year-old print found on clay fragment in Turkey, 26,000-year-old print found on Venus statuette in the Czech Republic, 80,000-year-old Neanderthal print (abroad in the yard)

Featured image: The fingerprints were discovered by museum researchers on an inner coffin lid belonging to the priest Nespawershefyt from about 1000 BC. Credit: Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

By April Holloway

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