Archaeologists have discovered an ancient anvil that still bears a greasy handprint from the Pictish coppersmith who used it.

Archaeologists on the Isle of Rousay, Orkney, have been carrying out emergency excavations at an Iron Age settlement including a Pictish smithy’s workshop, and a Neolithic Chambered Cairn, which are under threat from coastal erosion. And it’s a good job too, because they’ve just made a remarkable discovery.

Archaeo-metallurgist Gerry McDonnell from the University of Bradford decided to investigate the workshop’s floor in forensic detail. Using a scanner, he managed to locate the spray pattern left by the tiny metal sparks that would have come off with each strike against the metal, allowing archaeologists to identify exactly where the smith would have worked.

But the biggest surprise came when two of smith’s anvils were taken off to be cleaned, and archaeologists realised they could still see the carbon imprints of the smith’s knees and hands all over them.

“The finger prints seem to be a mix of grease and carbon, you can see where his knees would have been and where he put his hand down, making the mark – it is such an amazing contact with the past” fellow researcher Stephen Dockrill told the Press & Journal.

As well as the finger and knee prints, the excavations also recovered 50 crucibles, and have allowed the research team to start building up an incredibly detailed picture of the smithy’s workshop.

According to Stephen, the stairs to the smithy go down and then turn a corner, acting like a light trap, because the smith would have needed darkness to distinguish the colour of the hot metal. The team also found evidence of the threshold stone, where the door would have swung on a pivot.

Talk about leaving your mark on history – what a unique insight into the life of a Pictish smithy!

H/T Press & Journal

Always wanted to try archaeology?

DigVentures crowdfunds archaeological projects that everyone can be part of, in the UK and overseas. With help from people all over the world, we investigate the past and publish our discoveries online for free. Support one of our digs and you can choose to watch our discoveries as they happen, or roll up your sleeves and excavate alongside our team!

Choose a dig

Maiya Pina-Dacier

Head of Community at DigVentures, Maiya digs with a trowel in one hand, and a Twitter feed in the other. She reports on all our discoveries live from the trenches, and keeps our Site Hut full of the latest archaeology news. Got a story? Just drop her a line...

Full Author Profile +