Upon examining pieces of ceramics from the Neolithic period, it reveals that the clay pottery were made by at least three individuals wherein two of them were young males between the ages of 13 to 22.

Researchers from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology in Scotland first reported making the discovery back in April at the Orkney's Ness of Brodgar site — a 6.2-acre (2.5 hectares) right at the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, a World Heritage Site in Orkney. The lottery sherd, or a broken ceramic fragment, was recovered as a part of the University's ongoing excavation on the site.

Excavations at Ness of Brodgar
(Photo : genevieveromier via Wikimedia Commons)

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Gathering Details from the Slightest Fingerprints

Three fingerprints were traced to be 5,000 years old. However, only two of them retained sufficient details for further analysis. Researchers generated digital imagery from the remaining imprints — leading to the discovery that the younger of the neolithic artisans was probably between 13 to 20 years old while the older one is somewhere between 15 and 22.

"Working on such as high-status site as the Ness of Brodgar, with its beautiful buildings and stunning range of artifacts it can be all to easy to forget about the people behind this incredible complex," notes Nick Card, excavation director, in a statement upon the discovery in April. "But this discovery really does bring these people back into focus."

The same clay pottery fragment was previously believed to contain only one print, identified through photographs and further studied with computer software. They were examined by Professor Kent Fowler, also the director of the Ceramic Technology Laboratory at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada.

In the latest press release from the site excavation team, Professor Fowler explains that while the two overlapping fingerprints show "identical average ages," there remains a slight overlap in the ridge values between the prints they have measured. 

"This suggests one print was made by an adolescent male and the other by an adult male," Professor Fowler added. He additionally explains that hands are usually placed only on closed-form vessels, based on ethnographic and experimental accounts. This occurs when artisans create roughouts and shape the clay pottery in different parts of the making process such as wiping or burnishing. It is also possible for external prints to accumulate when the pottery was done but still not dry enough.

The Massive Site of the Ness of Brodgar

In the same news release, researchers said that there are more than 80,000 pottery sherds found at the sight — too much in fact that it might be easy to lose track of the people behind these works.

The site is located between two ancient markers: the neolithic henge known as the Ring of Brodgar and the similarly ancient Standing Stones of Stennes. Its larger site, the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, has been inducted into the UNESCO World Heritage Center as a World Heritage Site in December 1999. Details of its inclusion to as a World Heritage Sites include significant structures that are still recognizable even today — from the tomb of Maes Howe to the two boundaries of the Ness of Brodgar, the location continues to offer insights into the life from the ancient settlers of the New Stone Age.


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