Präsentationsfolien: Das Speyerer Projekt zu Fingerabdrücken (14.9. 2015)

Präsentation (Dr. Markus Späth, Dr. Joachim Kemper) am 14.9.2015 auf dem Workshop „Materiality Matters: New approaches to medieval sealing cultures / Die Materialität zählt: Neue Forschungsansätze zur mittelalterlichen Siegelkultur“, Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen, 14.-15. September 2015

Materialtechnische Untersuchung von Fingerabdrücken

Materialtechnische Untersuchung von Fingerabdrücken auf der Rückseite mittelalterlicher Stadtsiegel von Speyer mit der µCT als Grundlage für die forensische Analyse

Autoren: Karin Uta Berg, Hans Wolfgang Berg / BMB Gesellschaft für Materialprüfung

Dieser Beitrag zum Workshop ist ab sofort als PDF verfügbar (samt Abbildungen):



Imprint: A Forensic and Historical Investigation of Fingerprints on Medieval Seals

Zusammenfassung des Beitrags zum Workshop (14./15.9.2015):

Philippa Hoskin, University of Lincoln / Elizabeth New, Aberystwyth University

In 2012, Dr Elizabeth New, Aberystwyth University, and Professor Philippa Hoskin, University of Lincoln, began to discuss the fingerprints often found on the reverse of medieval wax seals, left in the soft wax when the seal impression was made. Could forensics experts help to investigate these prints? This led in 2013 to a pilot project, funded by the University of Lincoln, which sampled sealed documents form Hereford Cathedral Archives, a collection that was known to be rich in seals with visible prints because of its inclusion in the earlier UK Arts & Humanities Research Council Seals in Medieval Wales project dataset. For the 2013 pilot project Luke McGarr, a forensics expert from Forensics Focus, worked with the then Cathedral archivist, Rosalind Caird to identify seals dated 1150-1350 in Hereford Cathedral with clearly visible prints. He was able to find 200 such prints, although this did not mean 200 prints which proved suitable for further analysis: approximately 40% of these 200 prints revealed information suitable for the project’s purposes.

The pilot project allowed us to learn about the process of taking these images and also to find some interesting preliminary results. An unexpected discovery was that until 1300 palm prints rather than fingerprints were found on the wax, with a shift in the fourteenth century to a mix of palm and finger prints. Amongst a collection of seals all datedto 1225-1250, and all small grants or confirmations of land, all the prints found were of parts of the palm of the hand. When John the Clerkd, made a similar grant of property in c.1300, however, the print left upon his seal was of the whorl of the finger. In addition, the pilot revealed matching prints across different documents for one recipient from different donors, but the reasons for this need further investigation since the scribes and witnesses also differ. Furthermore, where there are multiple seals on one document sometimes the prints match, but sometimes they do not. From this data it was clear that more extensive sampling and analysis was likely to yield further new information, and we applied, successfully for AHRC funding for a major project to expand the scope and remit of the investigation.

Imprint: a forensic and historical investigation of fingerprints on medieval seals started in January 2016. The project is looking at seals dated 1150-1350 at Hereford, Exeter and Lincoln Cathedrals and at Westminster Abbey, and the Margam Abbey charters in the National Library of Wales. Forensics Focus are once again providing forensics expertise, but for the new project we are using a Crime Lite Imager©, a multi-sectoral imager that, as well as providing higher quality images, should enable at least part of the sample to be run through the AFIS database system used by the Home Office in the UK. Digital photographs of the seals and documents are also being taken and information recorded in a relational database in order to provide the maximum amount of information for analysis.

The principal research questions being addressed include 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.

Urkunde – DNA – Fingerabdruck. Wer kann wie Geschichte erforschen?

Gerne machen wir hier auf diesen Workshop am 17. Juni (Universität Kön) aufmerksam. Im Rahmen der Veranstaltung referiert auch Dr. Markus Späth zum Thema unseres Projekts: Körperspuren. Perspektiven für einen Austausch zwischen Forensik und Mediävistik

Aus der Beschreibung des Workshops:

Zentrale Kernfragen der Menschheit betreffen die eigene Herkunft und Vergangenheit: Wo kommen wir her, wer waren unsere Vorfahren? Waren für die Beantwortung dieser Fragen bislang vorrangig die historischen Geisteswissenschaften zuständig, wird nun seit einiger Zeit auch von naturwissenschaftlicher Seite die Historie untersucht, insbesondere durch Forschung mit genetischem Material, der DNA des Menschen. Dies hat zur Folge, dass sich die Geisteswissenschaften mit den Potentialen und Schwierigkeiten dieses neuen methodischen Ansatzes zunehmend auseinandersetzen.
Dieses Ziel verfolgt auch die geplante Veranstaltung, für die Referent_innen aus unterschiedlichen Disziplinen gewonnen werden konnten, die den Dialog zwischen Geistes- und Naturwissenschaften suchen. Anhand von Vorträgen aus unterschiedlichen Blickwinkeln und einer anschließenden Podiumsdiskussion bietet der Workshop die Möglichkeit, dieses neue Forschungsfeld kennenzulernen und mit führenden Vertretern auf dem Gebiet der „Genetic History“ zu diskutieren.

Wax Seals – Material and Context: An Interdisciplinary Research Project

Zusammenfassung des Beitrags zum Workshop (14./15.9.2015):

Wax Seals – Material and Context
An Interdisciplinary Research Project
Elke Cwiertnia, Adrian Ailes, Paul Dryburgh

The National Archives, UK, holds many thousands of wax seal impressions – the largest collection of these important historical objects in the United Kingdom. This vast collection has not before been examined explicitly with regard to sealing material and techniques. Details about their production, therefore, are relatively unknown and a comparison of their materiality has not yet been possible.

Wax seals attached to charters and letters were a primary means of authentication and communication in the Middle Ages. The project ‘Wax Seals: Material and Context’ at The National Archives, from February 2014 to August 2015, investigated their materiality, manufacture, use, and application techniques.

During the project, historians and seals specialists were involved in developing routes of investigation to complex historical questions that might be answered by examining the materiality of wax seals. Key research questions prompting the technical analysis included: how is the sealing wax made and by whom; where does the wax come from; can greater knowledge of the wax composition of seals aid conservation work or contextualisation; do different departments in government, such as the Exchequer and Chancery, or different members of the ruling family, buy the same wax; is the colour, size and quality of a seal important? At the same time it was agreed that the results themselves should be allowed to prompt new questions and suggest new areas of investigation.

The research questions were arranged in work packages (sub-projects) and considered by an interdisciplinary team composed of specialist staff from the Collection Care Department (CCD) and the Advice and Records Knowledge Department (ARK) at the Archives.
[CCD: Elke Cwiertnia, Nancy Bell and Kostas Ntanos; ARK: Paul Dryburgh and Adrian Ailes] Figure 1 provides an overview of the responsibilities of the different experts and the main connections between each discipline.

Fig. 1 Experts and their responsibilities


This interdisciplinary project used scientific studies in the form of visual examination and material analysis of selected wax seals and documentary evidence to gain valuable insights into the making and meaning of these objects [polarised light microscopy (PLM), cross sections, Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS), pyrolysis gas chromatography mass spectrometry (PyGC-MS), scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDX), X-ray florescence spectrometry (XRF), Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR)].

The main outcomes and findings reflect the interesting journey while examining about 70 wax seals in the collection of The National Archives:

  • An interdisciplinary research group working within TNA was established.
  • A new, more accurate method to measure wax seals was developed.
  • Details and developments about the materials used in seals, including beeswax, coniferous resin, vermilion and verdigris were identified, for example: pigment content (and therefore material costs) in Canterbury seals (and possibly other seals) decrease over time
  • Historical sources emphasised the importance of wax as a key commodity to central government and its import from other countries, mainly through the Baltic Sea and certain European cities. Vermilion was likely to be imported from Spain.
  • Size (diameter, depth and relief) of the Great Seals from 1100 to 1300 increases.
  • Certain green and red seals change colour over time (to a brown appearance).
  • Green wax can be prepared using beeswax and a green pigment or cooking beeswax in a copper vessel.
  • Cords on the great seals are usually made of coloured silk. Colour, braiding and knotting technique might have/hide a meaning. Cords were found to run at an angle through seals (particularly early double-sided seals) presumably to accommodate the lugs of the matrices.

It also has created new questions relating to the materiality of the documents, and allowed us to use our developed examination methods.

To find out more, visit our website and listen to the podcast:



Fig. 2 a and b: Henry of Lancaster’s seal (front) detached from Barons’ Letter B, 1301 (catalogue reference: E 26/1 Cord E)





Fig. 3: Xray fluorescence (XRF) analysis on a wax seal to investigate the elements (which helps to identify the pigments used)


Fig. 4: Verdigris (green pigment) in beeswax, after artificial ageing for 3 weeks (colour change on the edges of the pigment)


Fig. 5: Reproduction of sealing wax mixture, here: verdigris (green pigment) in beeswax, colour changes due to heating for several hours

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