This past September, Kimberlee Moran, Associate Teaching Professor and Director of Forensics, and a co-founder of the Ancient Fingerprint Society, traveled to Jerusalem to research ancient fingerprints on clay lamps from the city of Beit Nattif, which dates to 300 AD. For one week, in the basement of the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem, Ms. Moran and her research partner, Dr. Achim Lichtenberger from the University of Münster, in Germany, analyzed oil lamps and clay figurines from a Late Roman ceramics workshop which were originally excavated in the early twentieth century. Almost immediately they discovered many fragments with clear evidence of the manufacturer’s fingerprints preserved on some of the ceramic surfaces. Months of study of these fingerprints have revealed additional information about both the production history and techniques of the workshop. Their findings have recently been published in the journal Antiquity, a Cambridge University Press publication.
While research is ongoing, early in the process it was discovered that a single identical fingerprint impression, nicknamed “arch-man,” was found on multiple objects, in the same position and orientation. The impression was so clear and distinct that Ms. Moran was able to “match” it on the spot to the same impression on other objects.
Not only does this indicate that one particular individual was responsible for producing the oil lamps, it demonstrates how the oil lamps were manufactured: using a mold held by the left hand while the right hand would smear clay on the left side of the mold and press down with the index finger on the right side. A figurine with the same marks was found at the site, meaning that both oil lamps and figurines were manufactured at the same workshop in Beit Nattif. These discoveries will help Ms. Moran, Dr. Lichtenberger, and other researchers understand about the organizational structure of the workshop and production processes.
This highlight successful research trip is only the beginning. Ms. Moran and Dr. Lichtenberger will conduct additional analysis on the impressions, some of which are partial and will require computer software to do the comparisons. Also, during their time in Jerusalem, Ms. Moran and Dr. Lichtenberger met many archaeologists and researchers, whom were very interested in their fingerprint analysis work and are interested in collaborating on future projects.
For additional information about this project, see the University of Münster’s news release.
Written by Julie Roncinske