A. Sutherland - AncientPages.com - Fingerprints have been a source of people's great fascination and can be traced back to ancient times.
Today, however, it is difficult to establish whether the fingerprints were placed on the artifacts, walls, and documents intentionally or coincidentally.
The earliest records of fingerprints are seemingly dated to 7,000 BC and originate from Jericho, near the Jordan River in the West Bank of the Palestinian territories. Neolithic bricks from this ancient city were discovered to contain thumbprints of ancient bricklayers as it is mentioned in K. M. Kenyon's book "Archaeology of the Holy Land".
Handprints and fingerprints made by W. J. Herschel
Circa 3,000 BC, in Mesopotamia, fingerprints were placed on clay tablets to confirm business transactions. In the construction of the king's storehouse, each brick was purposely provided with a "digital impression" in form of finger imprints.
In ancient Egypt, a similar procedure was used in the construction of royal buildings. Fingerprints were also pressed on the walls of Egyptian tombs.
Ancient artifacts containing carvings of fingerprints and dated to 3,000 BC, were discovered in Northwest Europe at New Grange on the coast of Ireland, but also and in Brittany, France.
Images of fingerprint ridges were also found in a number of artifacts discovered in burial chamber passages and tombs from this period of time.
About one year ago, archaeologists unearthed pieces of a 5,500-year-old ceramic vessel from an ancient fjord east of Rødbyhavn near Lolland, Denmark and on it, there was an ancient fingerprint.
Left: The 5,500-year-old fingerprint and Right: the funnel beaker as it was unearthed. Credit: Line Marie Olesen/Museum Lolland-Falster.
People lived in Nova Scotia for more than 11,000 years, which is confirmed by written history and oral tradition as well. For example, the outline of a hand with etchings representing the ridge patterns on fingertips was once scratched into the slate rock beside Kejimkujik Lake, in Nova Scotia.
Prehistoric cave artists and pot makers used to "sign" their works with an impressed finger or thumbprint. Fingerprints have been discovered on ancient Babylonian seals, clay tablets, and pottery. They have also been found in Greek and Chinese pottery, as well as on bricks and tiles in Babylon and Rome.
In the Greek and Roman periods, there have been found many clay bullae. Photo via Forensics
The imprints of fingers have been found embossed on 6,000-year-old Chinese pottery and according to a Chinese historian, Kia Kung-Yen, who lived in the Tang period, thumbprints were found on clay seals and inked fingerprints were used to "sign" legal documents regarding loans, debts, and contracts.
The oldest of the documents, which "survived" is dated to the 3rd century BC. The imprint, which is deeply embedded in the seal, is considered to be an important identifying mark.
Could it mean that the ancient Chinese were fully aware of the uniqueness of a fingerprint?
Could it mean that the ancient Chinese were fully aware of the uniqueness of a fingerprint? If this is so, there is strong evidence that the Chinese were aware of the individuality of fingerprints a very long time ago.
Ancient records from the 14th century Persia inform that one government official, a physician, made an important discovery. Namely, he observed that no two fingerprints were exactly alike! As we see, he was not the first to observe the fingerprints' unique feature.
Chinese records from the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) include details about using handprints as evidence during burglary investigations. Clay seals bearing friction ridge impressions were used during both the Qin and Han Dynasties (221 BC - 220 AD).
Sir William James Herschel (1833 – 1917) whose father and grandfather were astronomers, decided to choose another career. He joined the East India Company and began his work a British civil servant in India.
More and more interested in fingerprinting, Herschel made a variety of experiments and soon realized that a person's fingerprints do not change over time! In 1916, one year before he died, Sir Herschel published his work entitled "The Origin of Fingerprinting".
C. Lee wrote in his book "Advances in fingerprint technology" that Henry Faulds (1843-1930), a medical missionary for the Church of Scotland, was very interested in fingerprints. In one of his experiments, he removed the skin from fingers (!) of his patients after fingerprinting them.
When the skin regrew on the fingertips he fingerprinted them once more. He noted that the ridge detail was exactly the same as it was before the skin was removed.
His conclusion was that fingerprint patterns were variable, but ridge detail was immutable!
Written by – A. Sutherland AncientPages.com Staff Writer
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Expand for references
Hawthorne, Fingerprints: Analysis and Understanding
Castronovo, The Oxford Handbook of Nineteenth-Century American Literature
M, Specter, The New Yorker