Researchers from Perth’s Curtin University and the US brought together art and science to make the discovery.
Their work showed Egyptian blue, the earliest known synthetic pigment, can double as a luminescent dusting powder that reveals print marks on patterned coatings, such as polymer currency notes, and highly reflective materials.
Egyptian blue was first prepared before 3200 BC and was traditionally used as a pigment in painting and as a ceramic glaze.
Indianapolis Museum conservation scientist Gregory Smith has been using near-infrared imaging to find traces of Egyptian blue pigment on faded ancient artefacts for a decade.
Dr Smith suggested to Curtin University forensic and analytical chemistry Professor Simon Lewis they investigate its properties for obtaining fingerprints.
They reduced samples of the pigment into particles only a few microns in diameter, and discovered it worked better as a near-infrared luminescent dusting powder than commercially-available fingerprint powders.
“Not many things glow in the near-infrared, so it means it will reveal your fingerprints against a dark background,” Professor Lewis said.
“So it removes all of that pattern on surfaces. It also helps when you’re looking at highly-reflective objects.”
The pigment would be used for objects brought back to the laboratory rather than at crime scenes.
Professor Lewis said while further studies were needed using a wider range of surfaces, it was exciting because it could see fingerprints detected on surfaces that have been traditionally problematic with conventional powders.
“It’s this coming together of art and science to be able to find solutions for the future from information from the ancient past,” he said.