Today, I was reading an article on early image of Jesus found in an Egyptian tomb. Along with it, one tomb of a scriber was found buried together with writing tools consisting of a metallic inkpot so full of ink and two new pens. One question propped up in my mind whether archaeologists record fingerprints that might be present on the inkpot, before touching and opening the pot to see the full ink inside or whether fingerprints are rendered unusable due to dust gathering over time. Fingerprint technology has become an indispensable part of forensic analysis. Do ancient fingerprints reveal any significant information, considering the fact that they are of ancient people like a new info on human evolution by comparison with the present ones?

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    Is your question: "Are fingerprints used for historical research?" Please clarify the question a little more. – Rajib May 3 '14 at 7:28
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    You can certainly find fingerprints here and there in ancient artifacts. Ceramics, perhaps even cave paintings. Using them to identify anyone is out of the question. – Oldcat May 19 '14 at 23:38
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    This edit seems to have fundamentally changed the question, which had an accepted answer. Perhaps a new question should be asked concerning preservation processes, and the edit on this question rolled back to the original question concerning fingerprints? – justCal Oct 4 '19 at 12:01
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    I have rolled back the edits. Since the question received an answer as it was originally phrased years ago, it is advisable to ask follow up questions in a separate post rather than edit this one. – Semaphore Oct 7 '19 at 5:14

A Google search for "fingerprints on ancient artifacts" is actually pretty fruitful. The study of ancient fingerprints appears to be called "paleodermatoglyphics." (This article introduces the topic a bit.)

There is at least one issue of a journal related to this available for free online: The Journal of Ancient Fingerprints. It says:

"Fingerprints have been found even on the world's oldest ceramics -- on pellets and figurines from Dolní Věstonice and Pavlov in South Moravia. They were fired in the Upper Paleolithic period about 25,000 years ago." (p. 6)

When you say "Do ancient fingerprints reveal any significant information, considering the fact that they are of ancient people like a new info on human evolution by comparison with the present ones?" I'm not 100% certain what you're asking, but note that even Neanderthal fingerprints have been found:

"The oldest known fingerprint was imprinted on an organic sub- stance originally described as a resin. From recent chemical analyses we know that this material is an artificial adhesive (glue) made from birch bark, which was used by a Paleolithic inhabitant of the Königsaue region (Halle, Germany) to glue a flint artifact to a wooden haft. The dating of this item to the Middle Paleolithic suggests that the fingerprint belongs to a Neanderthal." (p. 6)

There's quite a bit more in the journal about methods, examples, etc. Fingerprints on ancient artifacts have told archaeologists how items were made ("A fingerprint close to the base of a Cypriotic Bronze Age bowl from Enkomi showed the archaeologist that the potter held the bowl with his hands when it was dipped in paint" (p. 19)) or who made them ("This [ridge breadth measurement] method has been used on the world’s oldest ceramics, ca 25,000–35,000 BP, from Dolní Věstonice. Measurements on 56 fingerprints from 29 sherds showed that the imprints had been made by 12 year old children" (p.20)).

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  • Did you find any information that would say we could differentiate groups of closely related ethnic groups by fingerprints? That might be useful in this case, but I don't think its possible. – Razie Mah May 3 '14 at 11:56
  • No, nothing like that, though I admit I was reading kind of quickly. – litlnemo May 3 '14 at 14:19

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