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

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


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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 Prints uncovered from a ceramic artifact, bronze burial rings or historical document, give specific clues into the life of the person.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.


3,000-year-old ancient Egyptian fingerprints found

Fitzwilliam Museum

Three-thousand-year-old fingerprints have been found on the lid of an Egyptian coffin by researchers.

The prints are most likely to have belonged to craftsmen handling it before the varnish dried, according to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, in England.

Julie Dawson, Head of Conservation at the Museum explained that wood was a very precious material in ancient Egypt.

Often the beautifully designed coffins were actually patched up from lots of different scraps of wood.

The detailed coffins show the time, care and attention ancient Egyptians spent on preparing their dead for the afterlife.

Fitzwilliam Museum

3,000-Year-Old Fingerprints Found on Ancient Egyptian Coffin Lid

Researchers at Cambridge Fitzwilliam Museum in the UK have found 3,000-year old fingerprints on the lid of an Egyptian coffin.

(CNN) — Researchers at Cambridge Fitzwilliam Museum in the UK have found 3,000-year old fingerprints on the lid of an Egyptian coffin.

“The fingerprints were left by craftsmen who made a mistake and touched it before the varnish dried,” Helen Strudwick, an Egyptologist at the museum, told CNN. “The discovery was made in 2005, but has not been publicized so far.”

This finding, along with other discoveries regarding the set of coffins, “bring us closer to the people who made the coffins,” the museum said in a statement.

Researchers at Cambridge Fitzwilliam Museum in the UK have found 3,000-year old fingerprints on the lid of an Egyptian coffin.

The fingerprints were on an inner coffin lid believed to have belonged to a priest called Nespawershefyt, also known as Nes-Amun, who was the chief of scribes of the temple of Amun-Re at Thebes, the museum said.

The coffins, which date back to 1,000 B.C., underwent extensive examinations, including X-rays at the museum and CT scanning at a nearby hospital, which revealed information about how Egyptian coffins were made 3,000 years ago.

“The inner coffin box is made up of a multitude of pieces of wood, including sections from at least one older coffin,” Julie Dawson, head of Conservation at the Fitzwillliam Museum, said in the statement.

Researchers at Cambridge Fitzwilliam Museum in the UK have found 3,000-year old fingerprints on the lid of an Egyptian coffin.

“Evidence of re-use includes cuts across old dowel holes, patching to change the profile of the coffin sides and a number of places where old mortise holes have been filled in and new ones cut beside them. Wood was a precious commodity and the craftsmen were incredibly skilled at making these complex objects from sometimes unpromising starting materials.”

The set of coffins will be on display at “Death on the Nile” — a new exhibition starting on February 23 that focuses on how Egyptian coffin design has evolved over 4,000 years.

“The coffins show the skill and care with which the Egyptians prepared for the afterlife,” says Strudwick, who is co-curator of the exhibition. “To us, for whom death is a taboo subject, this seems like a morbid preoccupation. In fact, it was an obsession with life and an urgent wish to ensure its perfected continuation.”


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Now, Strudwick hopes the findings will prompt her international colleagues to come forward with fingerprints on different Egyptian coffin collections — and possibly help researchers identify the work of individual artisans.

“It’s not impossible that we may be able to see other people with the same fingerprints appearing on their coffins,” she said. “We’re at the very beginnings of this work.”

Fitzwilliam staff also found fingerprints on a fragment from an older coffin, where the artisan used his fingertip on a painting of a gazelle, dabbing it to make the hide look textured. Those prints came from the 4,000-year-old coffin set of Wepwawetemhat, believed to be a master physician.

The Nespawershefyt set — “one of the finest coffin sets of its type in the world” — is made up of three layers. A “mummy board” envelopes the body, then goes inside an inner coffin, which in turn fits into an outer coffin, similar to a Russian doll.

The fingerprints were found on the inner coffin and it’s unlikely Nespawershefyt, nor his family, ever saw them. On the bottom of one of the coffins, researchers also found “doodles” of eyes, left by idle, ancient artisans.

“You just imagine somebody bored,” Strudwick said. “Obviously somebody got under there and just doodled in a spare moment.”


3,000-year-old fingerprints found inside lid of Egyptian high priest's coffin

A new exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum will display the prints believed to have belonged to an ancient Egyptian worker, made over three millenia ago. The discovery by researchers at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge is hailed as "one of many small details that bring us closer to the ancient craftsmen", said a spokeswoman.

Julie Dawson, head of conservation at the Fitzwilliam Museum, said the prints were first identified in 2005 by archaeologists but had "not been widely publicised" before.

Sarcophagus of Nespawershefyt, chief scribe of the temple of Amun-Re at Thebes

The fingerprints were probably left by the craftsman who handled the sarcophagus of a priest named Nespawershefyt, also called Nes-Amun, before the varnish dried.

The set of coffins were studied with X-radiography at the museum and also sent for CT scanning at the radiology department of Addenbrooke's Hospital, using radiographs and scans when they came across the fingerprints.

Dawson, co-curator of the exhibition, Death on the Nile, which opens on 23 February, said: "The inner coffin box is made up of a multitude of pieces of wood, including sections from at least one older coffin.

"Evidence of re-use includes cuts across old dowel holes, patching to change the profile of the coffin sides and a number of places where old mortise holes have been filled in and new ones cut beside them.

"Wood was a precious commodity and the craftsmen were incredibly skilled at making these complex objects from sometimes unpromising starting materials."

The final resting place of Nes-Amun is one of the finest coffin sets of its type in the world and in a remarkable state of preservation, pointing to his high status as chief scribe of the temple of Amun-Re at Thebes.

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?"


Three men, one at each end and one at the middle, slowly and gingerly lifted the wooden lid as if handling a giant eggshell. Quietly offering each other direction and status reports, they glided a few steps and placed the lid atop an Ethafoam support structure for safekeeping.

Then they looked back at the 3,000-year-old coffin and what was now visible inside: an image of the ancient Egyptian sun god Ra-Horakhty, partially obscured by a thick, tar-like coating.

It “was a heart-stopping moment,” said Peter Der Manuelian, Barbara Bell Professor of Egyptology and director of the Harvard Semitic Museum, of the discovery his team made last month after opening the coffin of Ankh-khonsu, a doorkeeper in the Temple of Amun-Ra.

Dennis Piechota (from left), Adam Middleton, and Joe Greene work on the coffin of Ankh-Khonsu with a team at the Semitic Museum.

Photos by Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

The find was a highlight of a weeklong research project led by Manuelian and financed by a grant from the Dean’s Competitive Fund for Promising Scholarship. The goal was to create a complete digital visual record of Ankh-khonsu’s coffin, along with two others, which then can be shared with students, researchers, museum visitors, and other enthusiasts. It’s also part of a push by the museum to find ways to allow greater access to its collection of antiquities.

The body of Ankh-khonsu had been removed more than 100 years ago when the coffin was brought from Egypt to Cambridge, and the container was reopened about 30 years ago. But for reasons unknown, “there was no modern documentation of the coffin’s interior, so we had no idea what to expect, plain wood or an exquisitely painted deity staring back at us,” said Manuelian. “It turned out to be the latter, hiding somewhat beneath a layer of resinous material used in the funeral process.” The two other coffins, whose former inhabitants were the female temple singer Mut-iy-iy and a priest and metal engraver named Pa-di-mut, had more complete records.

Despite the uneven texture of the area and the dark coating, Manuelian and his colleagues could see the yellow, orange, and blue painting and the hieroglyphs that read “Ra-Horakhty, the great God, Lord of Heaven” next to the figure.

As part of the project, Manuelian assembled an “all-star cast” of conservators, a professional photographer, and pigment sampling and residue and wood analysis experts to collect information and capture imagery of the coffin materials and adornments. Colleagues came from as far away as University College London and from just down the street at the Harvard Art Museums.

The ancient Egyptian sun god Ra-Horakhty is barely visible inside the coffin of Ankh-Khonsu. The female temple singer Mut-iy-iy had artwork inside her coffin.

Over the course of their work, a dozen people congregated to document and analyze every inch of the artifacts. All three coffins date from Dynasty 22 (945‒712 BCE) and came to the museum from modern-day Thebes, Egypt, between 1901 and 1902. The coffins of Mut-iy-iy and Ankh-khonsu are made of wood, likely sycamore, while that of Pa-di-mut is a cartonnage case made of linen and plaster that was once housed within a wooden box. The closed coffins are displayed on the second floor of the Semitic Museum.

In addition to conservation efforts, assistant curator of collections Adam Aja and students in his co-taught Harvard Extension School course “Museum Collections Care,” were on hand to 3D scan the pieces, while Manuelian produced the camera-based photogrammetry of the coffins: top, bottom, interior, and exterior. The group worked with researcher Mohammed Abdelaziz of Indiana University-Bloomington on an animated and rotatable “first draft” of all three coffins.

“The work was timed to coincide with this January term course, and it was the perfect opportunity to involve students in one of our complex, multiphase collections projects,” said Aja. “In addition to witnessing all of the stages of preparation and study, they were actively engaged in capturing and producing the digital content.”

Consulting conservators Dennis and Jane Piechota, who regularly work with the Semitic Museum and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, ensured that the coffins were removed from their display cases safely, transported to the research room, and laid out properly for photography and scanning.

Adam Aja works on 3D images of the coffin of Mut-iy-iy.

“It’s an honor to work on these artifacts up close, and unusual to be able to touch something so old and containing so much history,” said Jane Piechota.

Opening the tops, which had been closed for decades, was a sizeable first hurdle. The Piechotas examined the contact points between lid and coffin for signs of pressure and fusing between the pieces, inserting thin wedges of wood all around the lid to begin the separation and lifting process.

Turning the coffins to photograph and scan them required more dexterity and care, due to the age and delicacy of the artifacts.

“Turning over the coffins is petrifying! They’re heavy, and if we don’t handle them carefully they can be easily damaged,” said Dennis Piechota. “Once the lid came off, we looked inside at the construction of the sides and bottom of each coffin. We inspected the joints that keep the wooden pieces together, to make sure they would stay together as we turned them.”

Researchers collected fabric, paint, and resin samples, and studied the texts and iconography covering the wooden boxes and ancient plaster cartonnage case, including the black resinous “goo” covering the paintings.

At the same time, Eden Piacitelli and Lauren Wyman, master’s degree candidates in museum studies at Harvard Extension School, used a 3D wireless scanner to capture every detail of the coffins, then used software to create rotatable digital models.

“This was all very new for me, with new technology. I’ve never been this close to an antiquity before,” said Piacitelli. “Being part of the team doing the scanning was most exciting because it’s a learning process for everybody. Working with these experts across [different] fields has been very intimidating, but they have been very generous with their time and their knowledge.”

The project marked the latest step in the museum’s journey to make more of its antiquities accessible to a wider audience (previous digital modeling processes included an augmented reality app to accompany an exhibit of the Dream Stela). Manuelian also directs the Giza Project, an initiative that assembles all the archaeology around the Giza Pyramids, including a virtual reality component.

“Even five years ago, we didn’t have these technological developments,” said Joseph Greene, deputy director and curator of the museum. “So we wanted to do everything we could to study and record information about these artifacts for the next generation of researchers.”

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3,000-Year-Old Fingerprints Found on Coffin – Secrets in the News: February 20 – February 26, 2016

1. 3,000-Year-Old Fingerprints Found on Coffin
Researchers at the The Fitzwilliam Museum in the UK have found 3,000-year-old fingerprints on the lid of the Egyptian coffin. The fingerprints were on an inner coffin lid believed to have belonged to a priest. Learn more at CNN.

2. George Washington Was a Whiskey Tycoon
This Founding Father spent his post-presidency years selling whiskey. Read more at Smithsonian Magazine.

3. Boy Finds 3,400-Year-Old Figurine in Israel
A seven-year-old boy discovered an ancient statuette of a naked woman during a day trip to an archaeological site in Israel. The 3,400-year-old figurine was made by pressing soft clay into a mold and is typical of the Canaanite culture of the 15th to 13th centuries B.C. Learn more at NBC News.

4. Spanish Leak Reveals Hidden Chamber in King Tut’s Tomb Is Full of Treasures
Hisham Zaazou, Tourism Minister of Egypt, may have slipped up during a recent visit to Spain when he revealed that the hidden chamber was found full of treasures, and will be the ‘big bang’ of the 21st century. Read more at Ancient Origins.

5. Egyptians Were Buried in Recycled Coffins
A new exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge reveals that many new and decorated coffins were patched together from pieces of older coffins. Learn more at The Guardian.

Did we miss anything you’ve read or watched? Share Secrets in the News you’ve found this week!


3,000-year-old fingerprints found on Egyptian mummy

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Fingerprints that are 3,000 years old, apparently left by craftsmen who touched varnish before it had dried, have been found on an Egyptian mummy, the BBC reported.

The discovery, made by the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, was made public to promote the opening on Tuesday of Death on the Nile, an exhibition focusing on Egyptian coffin design over 4,000 years.

The fingerprints were revealed on an inner coffin lid dating back to 1,000 BC and belonging to a priest named Nespawershefyt, or Nes-Amun, chief of scribes of the temple of Amun-Re at Thebes.

They came to light during coffin examinations, including X-rays and CT scans, to study how ancient Egyptian coffins were made.

Helen Strudwick, an Egyptologist at Fitzwilliam Museum, told CNN that the prints had been “left by craftsmen who made a mistake and touched it before the varnish dried. The discovery was made in 2005, but has not been publicized so far.

“The coffins show the skill and care with which the Egyptians prepared for the afterlife,” added Strudwick, who co-curated the show. “To us, for whom death is a taboo subject, this seems like a morbid preoccupation. In fact, it was an obsession with life and an urgent wish to ensure its perfected continuation.”

Julie Dawson, head of conservation at the museum, explained in a statement that “the inner coffin box is made up of a multitude of pieces of wood, including sections from at least one older coffin,” CNN reported.

“Evidence of reuse includes cuts across old dowel holes, patching to change the profile of the coffin sides and a number of places where old mortise holes have been filled in and new ones cut beside them. Wood was a precious commodity and the craftsmen were incredibly skilled at making these complex objects from sometimes unpromising starting materials.”

The museum’s website says that the new exhibition endeavors to go beyond the images of pharaohs and pyramids to explore the whole business of death, including the materials, tools and techniques employed to make coffins.

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Photo Discover the 3000-year-old fingerprint of ancient Egypt

Ancient fingerprints are found on the inside of the coffin lid.

Researchers are examining the coffins dating back to 1,000 BC, including the use of X-rays at the museum and CT scans at a nearby hospital. This work aimed to find information that could be revealed to scientists 3,000 years ago how Egyptian coffins were manipulated.

Julie Dawson, head of conservation at the Fitzwilliam Museum, said the inside of the coffin was made from various pieces of wood, including the least part of an ancient coffin. The coffins will be displayed in a new exhibition called "Death on the Nile" starting February 23, focusing on how the Egyptian coffin design has evolved in more than 4,000 years.

According to Strudwick, the co-curator of the exhibition, the coffins show the skills and attention of the ancient Egyptians for things prepared for life in the next life. Even with modern humans, death is almost a taboo topic, and this is like an unhealthy preoccupation. But for the ancient people, this represents an obsession with life as well as a desire to ensure the perfect transition will take place after the last breath is poured out.


3,000-year-old fingerprints found on ancient Egyptian coffin lid

(CNN) — Researchers at Cambridge Fitzwilliam Museum in the UK have found 3,000-year old fingerprints on the lid of an Egyptian coffin.

“The fingerprints were left by craftsmen who made a mistake and touched it before the varnish dried,” Helen Strudwick, an Egyptologist at the museum, told CNN. “The discovery was made in 2005, but has not been publicized so far.”

This finding, along with other discoveries regarding the set of coffins, “bring us closer to the people who made the coffins,” the museum said in a statement.

The fingerprints were on an inner coffin lid believed to have belonged to a priest called Nespawershefyt, also known as Nes-Amun, who was the chief of scribes of the temple of Amun-Re at Thebes, the museum said.

The coffins, which date back to 1,000 B.C., underwent extensive examinations, including X-rays at the museum and CT scanning at a nearby hospital, which revealed information about how Egyptian coffins were made 3,000 years ago.

“The inner coffin box is made up of a multitude of pieces of wood, including sections from at least one older coffin,” Julie Dawson, head of Conservation at the Fitzwillliam Museum, said in the statement.

“Evidence of re-use includes cuts across old dowel holes, patching to change the profile of the coffin sides and a number of places where old mortise holes have been filled in and new ones cut beside them. Wood was a precious commodity and the craftsmen were incredibly skilled at making these complex objects from sometimes unpromising starting materials.”

The set of coffins will be on display at “Death on the Nile” — a new exhibition starting on February 23 that focuses on how Egyptian coffin design has evolved over 4,000 years.

“The coffins show the skill and care with which the Egyptians prepared for the afterlife,” says Strudwick, who is co-curator of the exhibition. “To us, for whom death is a taboo subject, this seems like a morbid preoccupation. In fact, it was an obsession with life and an urgent wish to ensure its perfected continuation.”


3,000 year-old fingerprints found on Egyptian coffin

When archaeology meets forensics – a team of British researchers has found three thousand year old fingerprints on the lid of an Egyptian coffin.

The prints on the coffin. Photo Credits: The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

The discovery was made at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England. Scientists believe the fingerprints belong to the craftsmen who worked on the coffin before the varnish dried, and this helped with the preservation. The prints were “one of many small details that bring us closer to the ancient craftsmen,” a spokeswoman said. The coffin belongs to the priest Nespawershefyt, an important official at the temple of Amun at Karnak who lived around 990-940 BC. At this period people no longer had elaborately decorated tomb chapels, choosing to put the decoration on the coffins instead.

The discovery was actually made in 2005, but further studies have been done since, including radiographs on mummies.

“The inner coffin box of the Nes-Amun set is made up of a multitude of pieces of wood, including sections from at least one older coffin. Evidence of re-use includes cuts across old dowel holes, patching to change the profile of the coffin sides and a number of places where old mortise holes have been filled in and new ones cut beside them. Wood was a precious commodity and the craftsmen were incredibly skilled at making these complex objects from sometimes unpromising starting materials. The radiographs and scans also reveal how people tried to restore or preserve the coffins in the past. Some parts of Nespawershefyt’s coffins are held together with 19th century ironmongery. Without these old repairs the coffins might not have survived so well, but they are quite intrusive on the original object and have rusted into the wood in places, causing damage.”

The Fitzwilliam Museum hosts one of the largest Egyptian collections in the world, hosting more than 17,000 Egyptian artefacts, ranging from household objects to writings and statuettes of animal-headed gods. Visitors can examine this collection for free at the museum, and can even have a look at the millennia-old fingerprints also for free.


Watch the video: Researchers Recreated Voice of 3,000-Year-Old Egyptian Mummy. NowThis