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Hands Across Time: Medieval Fingerprints on Wax Seals

Lecture by Dr Elizabeth New, FSA, and Prof Philippa Hoskin, FSA

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Medieval seals are miniature time-capsules, and one of the very few personal items owned by many men and women. They were the equivalent of modern-day credit cards and passports in legal and administrative terms but, unlike signatures, the combination of image and text enabled their owners to present themselves in different ways, projecting something about individual or corporate identity. By the later thirteenth century men and women across society owned and used seal matrices: some were bespoke and some were bought off the shelf, but all were necessary to validate and secure documents. The wax into which these seal matrices were pressed also often retain impressions of finger and palm prints, and new imaging and analytical techniques enable the exploration of the implications of sealing practice for revealing new evidence about networks of power, exchange and authority; the ‘performative act of sealing’, ritual and administration; sealing practice in relation to legal and administrative developments; the creation of proof and misuse of authority; and, from a forensic perspective, the viability of prints over time, technical challenges of identifying overlaid prints on uneven surface, adding to the body of evidence to support the uniqueness of prints. This lecture will include a demonstration of the cutting-edge forensic imaging techniques being used by the AHRC funded Imprint project, along with the latest findings from the project team.

Booking Information:

Lectures are free, but space is limited and booking is recommended. Click here to book on the Society of Antiquaries website.

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