Fingerprint evidence for the division of labour and learning pottery-making at Early Bronze Age Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath, Israel
Public Library of Science (PLoS) -- PLoS One
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0231046

The organization of craft production has long been a marker for broader social, economic and political changes that accompanied urbanism. The identity of producers who comprised production groups, communities, or workshops is out of reach using conventional archaeological data. There has been some success using epidermal prints on artefacts to identify the age and sex of producers. However, forensic research indicates that a combination of ridge breadth and ridge density would best identify the age and sex of individuals. To this end, we combine mean ridge breadth (MRB) and mean ridge density (MRD) to distinguish the age and sex of 112 fingerprints on Early Bronze Age (EB) III pottery from the early urban neighbourhood at Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath, Israel, dating to a 100 year time span. Our analysis accounts for the shrinkage of calcareous fabrics used to make six type of vessels, applies a modified version of the Kamp et al. regression equation to the MRB for each individual print, and infers sex by correlating MRD data to appropriate modern reference populations. When the results are combined, our analyses indicate that most fingerprints were made by adult and young males and the remainder by adult and young females. Children’s prints are in evidence but only occur on handles. Multiple prints of different age and sex on the same vessels suggest they were impressed during the training of young potters. Production appears dominated by adult and young males working alone, together, and in cooperation with adult and/or young females. Vessels with prints exclusively by females of any age are rare. This male dominant cooperative labour pattern contrasts recent studies showing that adult women primarily made Neolithic figurines in Anatolia, and more females than males were making pottery prior to the rise of city-states in northern Mesopotamia.