Welcome to the Imprint Project

Imprint is an interdisciplinary project, uniting cutting-edge scientific developments with historical methods. It uses hand marks found in the wax on the reverse of medieval seals to investigate what sealing practices tell us about the development of administrative and legal practices, about the rituals involved with exchange and about medieval ideas of identity.

Impressions of seal matrices in disks of wax, deliberately preserved with their parent documents as part of the legal and administrative process of authentication, survive in great numbers in British archives. Since, by the later thirteenth century, seals came to be used by almost all levels of society, the imagery and wording on seals, along with sealing practices and techniques, offer great potential for historical research. Importantly, the back of the wax on which seal impressions are found often retains the image of unique hand prints (finger, thumb or palm) but although sometimes commented upon these have, until now, been neglected as a source of information. They do, however, provide direct evidence of those involved in the act of sealing. But whose prints are they?

Imprint has examined several thousand seals dated c.1150-c.1350 for evidence of good hand prints and has used modern forensic equipment to take images of these for forensic analysis and comparison, as well as recording the details of the documents, their contents, date and appearance, and providing high quality colour images of both front and dorse of document and seal. All of this information (and notes of any matching prints or seal matrices) is recorded in the database which can be viewed through this website. You can also find information about the forensic processes used in the project, about the history of English medieval seals and the history of analysing hand prints and some examples of stories arising from our research. More ...