Spotlight On… Seals & Sealing Practices

Our Spotlight On… series of posts highlight other projects that you might want to follow, as well as blogs and sites that can help you in your research. This time, we focus on the work of the Imprint Project, and the strides it is making in both history and forensics.

We would really like to hear from you regarding interdisciplinarity and how STEM and Humanities can combine forces in future projects. Are you part of an interdisciplinary project? Tell us about it! Comment here and let us know or tweet to us @VoicesofLaw. Please use #SpotlightOn. We may invite you to contribute to future Spotlight On  blog posts.

The Imprint Project


The Imprint Project records the finger, thumb and palm prints on medieval wax seals, and, where/if possible, on the documents themselves.

The project is partnered with Forensic Focus Ltd, based in Ripley, Derbyshire. Forensic Focus provide three specialists, all of whom are former police personnel, to train the historians in forensic equipment use and techniques. Excitingly, the project is contributing to a Home Office project regarding the length of time prints remain on skin. The skin in question is the vellum/parchment that the documents are written on, and by digitally imaging both the document and the attached seal using a Foster & Freeman Crime Lite Imager, it will be possible to find out if any matching prints are visible on both the wax seal and the document itself.

This also helps to inform the debate on the persistence of prints.

The project also contributes to current scientific debate on the uniqueness of fingerprints, which, although a widely held belief, has not yet been scientifically proven. Using the Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems (AFIS) and other systems to identify prints, and compare them with prints stored in the modern database. The cross-referencing of prints will be very useful in building up the statistical data to inform the debate on uniqueness, and the likelihood of duplicate patterns.


On the history side, Imprint will reveal more about medieval social networks, by tracking prints across seals and documents.

The identification of personnel, if not by name then by their prints, will help to reveal more about the bureaucracies and protocols behind authentication and security in medieval England.

The seals in question are being taken from the archives of Westminster Abbey, Lincoln Cathedral, Exeter Cathedral, Hereford Cathedral, the British Library and the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.

The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and led by Dr Philippa Hoskin from the University of Lincoln, with co-investigator Dr Elizabeth New from Aberystwyth University; the two researchers on the project are Dr Fergus Oakes (Aberystwyth) and Dr Hollie Morgan (Lincoln).

The results of the project will ‘help to answer questions about administrative, iconographic and legal changes and the ‘performative act of sealing’, and how this reflected social and legal relationships’.


  • An imprint website, fully searchable, containing all documented information on the seals and documents looked at over the three years
  • Online exhibitions of the seals and documents hosted by the project website
  • All information from the project can be incorporated into the databases of the current collections to enrich their catalogues
  • Workshops and events for archival professionals from archives not directly involved in the project on how to enhance their collections by employing the same methods
  • Workshops geared towards the general public, offering ‘a vivid insight into medieval life’
  • Published final conclusions in leading journals in the fields of forensics and medieval history

SELECTED BLOG POST : The Small Matter of the Hereford Jury Seals, by Fergus Oakes


IMPRINT TWITTER: @Imprint_Project – Look out for the #SealoftheDay, and check out the hashtag for previous winners and contenders!

IMPRINT FACEBOOK: @Imprint_Projectseals


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