By Bernie Bell

I’m fascinated by the prints we humans leave – very ancient footprints have been found – hand prints in paint on cave walls have been found – the mark of nails used to make designs on pottery, ancient and modern.

A  Pictish Smith’s anvil discovered at the Swandro dig on Rousay has the actual knee prints and hand prints of those who worked at this stone.  The knee prints will have been produced by pressure from – presumably trouser covered – knees, but the hand prints are the prints of the actual bare hands of a Pictish Smith, or Smiths.

Sometimes the traces are more tangible, sometimes they are truly just echoes or shadows of the past. But they are still there.

These marks are so personal – very much human to human – right across time. 

And then, some actual fingerprints we found at the Ness of Brodgar excavation, which caused great excitement …….

Finger prints – Oh my lord – finger prints. Utterly human. Very personal. Spirals and whirls – the stuff of life.

The dig at the Ness is a marvel, and it’s wonderful that it is still open to the public so that we non-archaeologists can go and see the archaeologists in action there. But, after the tarpaulins and tyres have been put back at the end of the dig season, the work continues in the UHI Archaeology Institute, scrutinizing and analysing the finds more closely than is possible ‘in the field ‘ or at the time when they are first discovered.  That work has been progressing , and ……………………

Looking at the images in this piece, we can see the fingerprint of that young lad – though a thirteen-year-old was probably expected to be more of a ‘grown- up‘ then, than they are now.  There he is, learning from those who know, or maybe just helping, as young ones like to help and feel part of the grown-up world.

Connections like this shake me up – making the passing of time seem irrelevant to our shared humanity.

The Swandro Stone

A stone

With a hand-print

An in-advertent handprint.

There are handprints, placed,

On stones, on walls

In Ochre

And Carbon.

And the Swandro Stone

Has a carbon hand-print

Placed, yet not placed.

Through the hand-prints

We connect.

Bernie Bell


Related story: You can read about the young potter’s prints here: The Young Potter – Outstanding Evidence from Orkney’s Ness of Brodgar Site

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