Ancestors leave their fingerprints on history of town

prehistoric fingerprints preserved in clay. SUS-141103-103540001
prehistoric fingerprints preserved in clay. SUS-141103-103540001

Prehistoric fingerprints preserved in clay are among the exhibits at the new Eastbourne Ancestors display which opened on February 1.

The exhibition, which is proving a real hit with visitors, highlights some fascinating stories from Eastbourne’s past – including the fingerprints, which have been studied and photographed by police Scenes of Crime Officers.

In prehistory, (taken to be prior to the Roman Invasion of 43AD) most pottery was hand made using coils or slabs of clay placed together and moulded into shape by hand.

During this process, the ancient potter quite often left fingerprints on the wet clay, both accidently and on purpose as part of a decorative scheme.

The wet clay was then fired and turned into pottery, preserving the fingerprints for, sometimes, thousands of years.

The Eastbourne Ancestors exhibition has three such pieces of pottery; two from the Bronze Age era from around 900BC and one from Neolithic times, around 5000 years ago.

The Bronze Age pieces show the two main ways that ancient fingerprints can be preserved in the clay.

One in the form of an applied strip decoration with finger indentations; and the second preserving the fingerprints as ghostly reversed images.

One of these pieces was studied and photographed by the local Police SOCO team and the results showed a fingerprint in fairly good condition, from which other pieces of pottery made by the same hand could possibly be identified.

In addition, a cast was also taken which is on show at the exhibition.

The considerably older Neolithic piece is from around 3500BC. This has whole fingertip impressions decorating it that, when a mold is taken, will actually show the fingertips of the maker.

Councillor Carolyn Heaps said, “We are extremely pleased with the success of the exhibition so far.

“The fingerprints really add a fascinating aspect to show Eastbourne’s past along side reconstructions, artefacts and human bones, the exhibition is a must see.”

An exhibition spokesperson said, “We can just wonder at how different the persons life behind this 5,000-year-old fingerprint would have been.”

The team would like to test the piece and have moulds taken, meaning they would then be able to literally touch traces of a person from the distant past.

The exhibition, which is free, runs until November 16 at the Pavilion.

Opening times are currently Thursday – Sunday 10am -4pm.

From April 1 the exhibition will be open daily 10am – 5pm.

For more information please go to