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The 5,500-year-old fingerprint (left) and the funnel beaker (right)

Fingerprint found on ceramic bowl is over 5,000 years old

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When Danish archaeologists started to survey the site of the proposed Femern Belt link tunnel in 2015, they discovered a 5,500 year old ceramic vessel imprinted with the fingerprint of the craftsman who made it.

The vessel is called a ‘funnel beaker’ because it has a neck shaped like a funnel and a flat bottom. The Funnel Beaker Culture, which lived in the area between 4000 and 2800 BC, was named after this style of pottery, produced by the first farmers in Scandinavia and the Northern European plain. The vessel discovered by the archaeologists was discovered in three pieces east of Rødby Havn, on the south coast of Lolland, Denmark. The site used to be a fjord. When the archaeologists brought the artifact to the museum, they noticed a fingerprint imprinted on the surface inside it.

To put it in a temporal context, this fingerprint has survived almost twice as long as a fingerprints found on an Egyptian coffin dated to 1000BC. Those too are being attributed to the craftsman.

The funnel beaker was found on the south coast of Lolland, Denmark (pictured).

The funnel beaker was found on the south coast of Lolland, Denmark (pictured). (Wikimedia Commons)

“It is one of three beakers at the site, which originally was deposited whole probably containing some food or liquid presumably as part of some long forgotten ritual” Line Marie Olesen, an archaeologist at the Museum Lolland-Falster, told Discovery News.

Ms Olsen concluded that the fingerprint must have belonged to the person who made the beaker. She believes that a lot of time was spent on producing these kinds of pots, along with the decoration that adorns them. She also thinks that they played an important part in the everyday life of the society, judging by the locations in which they have been discovered.

The study of ancient fingerprints is a thing, a discipline known as “paleodermatoglyphics”, and although these fingerprints are mighty old, there are examples that date back tens of thousands of years.

An example of a funnel beaker, 1st - 3rd century AD

An example of a funnel beaker, 1 st - 3 rd century AD (Wikimedia Commons)

In the previous year, Olsen and her team found a 5,500 year old flint axe with its handle still intact. The axe was jammed into the ground, which used to be the seabed during the Stone Age. Layers of sand and clay covered it over time which helped to protect it from rotting. A number of wooden candlesticks, two oars, two bows, eight spears and fourteen axe shafts were also found on the same spot. The team has also discovered 5,000 year old footprints, probably those of fishermen attempting to retrieve nets or other items before the site was flooded.

The complete hand axe found by Olsen and  her team.

The complete hand axe found by Olsen and  her team. Credit: Museum Lolland-Falster

The Funnel Beaker Culture or TRB (Tricherrandbecher or Trichterbecher in German) was a society related to the more well-known Beaker culture (or ‘Beaker People’). This society was the first farming community in Northern Europe, having abandoned a hunter-gatherer lifestyle in favour of growing wheat, barley and legumes and rearing livestock such as cattle, sheep and goats. Most of their settlements consisted of houses that were little more than temporary structures made of wooden poles. However, they often featured a number of burial monuments, usually made out of wooden poles, in which people were interred over a number of generations. These monuments became impressive passage graves with walls and roofs as the poles were replaced by stone chambers constructed from glacial boulders.

In Britain, the graves of the Beaker People are often found in round barrows. They also introduced metal items into the country, usually made from copper and subsequently bronze and probably imported from Europe and Ireland. For this reason they are normally thought of as a Neolithic, rather than Bronze Age, society.

The ceramic beakers were usually funnel-shaped and richly decorated. Flint and stone axes are usually found at the same locations, along with jewellery made out of amber. The beaker people also wove textiles from flax. This is also the age when stone circles and other such monuments were being constructed. In general, it is thought though that the Beaker People were a patriarchal people with their communities being ruled by a ‘warrior-chief’ or ‘king’.

Ceramic beakers of the Funnel Beaker Culture

Ceramic beakers of the Funnel Beaker Culture (

Beaker people sites are found all across Northern Europe, extending into Ukraine and southwards into Austria. Their burials are particularly interesting, with men generally buried facing east and women facing west, as if aligned with the rising or the setting of the sun.

Top image: The 5,500-year-old fingerprint (left) and the funnel beaker (right). Credit: Line Marie Olesen / Museum Lolland-Falster.

By Robin Whitlock

Robin Whitlock's picture

Robin Whitlock

Robin Whitlock is a British freelance journalist with numerous interests, particularly archaeology and the history of the ancient world, an interest that developed in childhood. He has numerous published magazine articles to his credit on a variety of subjects, including... Read More

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