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In late 2004 or early 2005, I began to bring a number of test coupons that exhibit desiccation ridges to meetings held at the Seattle Museum of the Mysteries. At the time, I knew very little about the nature of these ridges. I spoke to a man whose name I no longer recall, who told me that he had done plaster casting of figurines in molds. He said that entrained air bubbles were a big problem, and that the way to avoid them was to add a very small amount of “soap” to the plaster slurry. This man was from the UK, and so we had no common reference to brand name of “soap” he might have used. Further, I was unclear if he meant soap or detergent…
Nevertheless, I was intrigued enough by his claims to investigate. Since I was investigating what casting cements do when in contact with desiccant substrates and not waterproof molds, I had no idea what the outcome might be. But since a surfactant will alter how the aqueous phase acts upon the solid phase, I suspected that it might affect the pattern of resulting desiccation ridges.
My first test was successful, though I didn’t photograph the result. The resulting desiccation ridges might be characterized as a pattern that mimics dysplasia.
It was not until some time later that I tried the test again. This was an informal test, one in which I didn’t record all the parameters. I simply added a small amount, perhaps a milliliter, of Dawn brand dishwashing liquid to the cement slurry. This was poured over a foot-shaped depression in a bed of desiccant, probably pumice. The resulting band of desiccation ridges was unique and unprecedented in my experience.
As you can see, the ridges mimic the fingerprint pattern known as a “arch”:
Or possibly even a “tented arch”:
This process is interesting because it represents a rather striking emulation of a biological process (fingerprint development) by a completely non-biological process. While it’s tempting to say “inorganic” process, this would be inaccurate, as the surfactant is of course organic…
Of further interest is that the size of the ridges are commensurate with genuine dermal ridges, although somewhat bigger:
I believe that this development is novel and intriguing.