The history and development of finger prints as a means of identification is really fascinating. Many scientists studied and contributed to make fingerprints as ‘AN INFALLIBLE EVIDENCE’. In this post we will take you through the timeline as how actually the fingerprint came into existence as a full proof forensic evidence.
History of Fingerprints – On a journey from being JUST impressions to Forensic evidence
Ancient artifacts with carvings similar to friction ridge skin have been discovered in many places throughout the world. In ancient Babylon, fingerprints were used on clay tablets for business transactions.
3300 BC – Indus valley civilization
People belonging to the Indus valley extensively used fingerprints which were embossed on clay tablets or seals. This clearly indicates their significance for identification purposes.
200 BC – China
Chinese records from the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) include details about using hand prints as evidence during burglary investigations. Clay seals bearing friction ridge impressions were used during both the Qin and Han Dynasties (221 BC – 220 AD).
1100 to 1200s
Early in 12th century, a chinese author wrote a series of crime novels, entitled ‘the story of the river bank”. This was referred as an evidence that science of fingerprinting had already came into existence in chinese criminal investigation procedure.
There were many methods that were adopted as a means of identification such as photography, tattooing, personal description and body measurements. These methods lead to mistakes in identity due to changes that occur time to time. The physical characteristics of the individual are liable to changes unlike fingerprints which remains persistent throughout the life. Therefore, identification through physical feature is not definite and decisive.
In the “Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London” paper in 1684, Dr. Nehemiah Grew was the first European to publish friction ridge skin observations
*In 1823, Jan Evangelista Purkinje, anatomy professor at the University of Breslau, published his thesis discussing nine fingerprint patterns. However, Purkinje made no mention of the value of fingerprints for personal identification.
*The English began using fingerprints in July 1858 when Sir William James Herschel, Chief Magistrate of the Hooghly District in Jungipoor, India, first used fingerprints on native contracts. On a whim, and without thought toward personal identification, Herschel had Rajyadhar Konai, a local businessman, impress his hand print on a contract.
This is probably the first time fingerprints were used for personal identification , though they did not think from that perspective and only tried to frighten him by blackmailing Konai about his hand print time and again.
*Professor Paul-Jean Coulier in Paris, published his observations that latent fingerprints can be developed on paper by iodine fuming. He also explained how to preserve (fix) such developed impressions and mentioning the potential for identifying suspects’ fingerprints by use of a magnifying glass.
*American microscopist Thomas Taylor proposed that finger and palm prints left on any object might be used to solve crimes.
*During the 1870s, Dr. Henry Faulds, the British Surgeon-Superintendent of Tsukiji Hospital in Tokyo, Japan, took up the study of “skin-furrows” after noticing finger marks on specimens of “prehistoric” pottery. He forwarded his finding and sought help from Sir Charles Darwin. Sir Darwin told Faulds that he wont be able to help him but can send the study to his cousin Francis Galton.
*In 1882, Alphonse Bertillon, clerk in the police department in Paris, devised a system of classification, known as anthropometry or the Bertillon System, using measurements of parts of the body.
This classification was based on eleven measurements of the body by metric system such as head length, head width, length of the middle finger, length of the left foot; and length of the forearm from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger. Bertillon also established a system of photographing faces – what became known as mugshots.
*Sir Francis Galton published his book, “Finger Prints” in 1892, establishing the individuality and permanence of fingerprints. This book included the first published classification system for fingerprints.
In subsequent year Galton publsihed books like “Decipherment of Blurred Finger Prints,” and “Fingerprint Directories”.
*On 12 June 1897, the Council of the Governor General of India sanctioned a committee report stating that fingerprints should be used for the classification of criminal records.
Later that year, the Calcutta (now Kolkata) Anthropometric Bureau became the world’s first Fingerprint Bureau. Two officers – Azizul Haque and Hem Chandra Bose, who are considered pioneer in the field of fingerprints were working there.They are the two Indian fingerprint experts credited with primary development of the Henry System of fingerprint classification (named for their supervisor, Edward Richard Henry).
Scotland Yard established its first Fingerprint Bureau.
1903- The famous Will and William Case
In 1903, Will and William West’s fingerprints were compared at Leavenworth Penitentiary after they were found to have very similar Anthropometric measurements. Their fingerprints were matched and found to be two different males.
France became the first country to introduce fingerprint system.
Edmond Locard wrote that if twelve points (Galton’s Details) were the same between two fingerprints, it would mean a positive identification.
The Unique Identification Authority of India is the world’s largest fingerprint system using fingerprint, face and iris biometric records. India’s Unique Identification project is also known as Aadhaar, a word meaning “the foundation”.
This was a consolidated timeline of fingerprint study and development till present day. Now let us also see some of the pioneers and their contributions to the field.
The science of identification through the examination of fingerprints is called dactylographic.
Dermatoglyphics (also referred as dactylographic) is the means to study ridge patterns containing sweat ducts on the frictional skin on the palmer surface of hands, fingers and sole of feet including toes.
Fingerprints system alone has proved to be infallible and feasible. It is an effective identification system because of its permanency, uniqueness, universality and simplicity in application. It is unique to an extent that no two persons can have same fingerprints, not even the identical twins can have same fingerprints.
PIONEER OF FINGERPRINTS
There are significant contributions of many people in the development of fingerprints.
- DR NEHEMIAH GREW(1641-1712):
His fingerprint observation was offered in 1684. He wrote on forms and uses of pores of skin of hands and feet. He published the drawings of finger and palm ridge patterns.
- MARCELLO MALPHIGI (1628-1694):
In 1986, he studies the patterns on the fingerprints bulbs and functions of morphology of skin. He mentioned about the loops and spiral patterns of the fingerprints. He stated no mention of fingerprints as individual identification. A layer of skin was named after him ‘malphigi layer’ whichis approximately 1.8 mm thick.
- THOMAS BEWICK (1753- 1828):
In 1770, he engraved his fingerprints and used them to ornament three of his books. He was one of the first to recognize the individuality of a finger mark.
- EVANGELIST PURKINJE(1787-1869)
In 1823, he named nine types of fingerprints. The nine patterns are the transverse curves, the central longitudinal stripe, the oblique strive, the oblique loop, the almond whorl, the spiral whorl, the ellipse, the circle, the double whorl.
He too did not mention about the individualistic nature of fingerprint that can be used for the identification purpose.
- SIR WILLIAM HERSCHEL (1833-1917)
In 1858, he began fingerprinting the natives with whom he had official transactions. He demanded an imprint of signers hand instead of signature to avoid any future repeated trickery. Later, he modified his procedure, using only imprint of last finger joint instead of entire hand.
He tested the persistency of ridge characteristics of his own finger,palm prints and sole prints at different long intervals. He realized immutability and persistency of ridge details. He was the first person to use fingerprints for identification purposes in India between 1858 and 1878.
In 1877, he introduced the system to pensioners to prevent impersonation by others after death and also in prisons to ensure that actual prisoner could always be accounted for.
- DR. HENRY FAULDS (1843-1930)
In 1880, he published a report of experiments showing methods of taking fingerprints. He suggested that skin ridge patterns are important for the identification of criminals. Faulds was convinced that fingerprints furnished infallible proof of identity. He was the first person to suggest the most valuable idea of identifying criminals from fingerprints found at crime scene, which plays in important role in the modern methods of scientific criminal investigations. He also wrote a textbook on fingerprint procedure.
- SIR FRANCIS GALTON (1822- 1911)
He published a classic book on fingerprints in 1892. In this book, he described anatomy of fingerprints and offered practical methods of recording them.
He classified fingerprints into three groups that were arches, loops and whorls. In 1893 he published a book again named ‘decipherment of blurred fingerprints’.
He stated all the three principles of the fingerprints:
- 1st principle- Ridge patterns on the friction skin remain permanent throughout the life of the individual.
- 2nd principle- Each person’s print constitutes unique characteristics.
- 3rd principle- He realized that it was essential to devise a system of classification.
He succeeded in proving the all three facts and his system of registration then, known as A-L-W method ( each letter stands for arches, loops and whorls).
- DR JUAN VUCETICH (1858-1925)
He was a criminologist who carried extensive fingerprint research prior to 1900 and devised a workable concept in 1891.
He maintained a file of fingerprint records, which was then the largest of its kind in the world.
- SIR EDWARD RICHARD HENRY (1859-1931)
In 1897, the first classification system of fingerprints use In India was proposed by him. He published a textbook on ‘classification and uses of fingerprints.
He evolve a system of fingerprint classification which is fundamentally simple and practical.
Two Bengali officers – Khan BahadurAzizulHaque and RaiBahadur Hemachandra Bose of anthropometric bureau played important role in development of fingerprint classification by assisting Henry.
Henry also modified A-L-W system and classified fingerprint patterns into 4 groups. They were arches, loops, whorls and composites.
- HARRY BATTLEY
The fingerprint bureau was established at the Scotland yard in the year 1901.
Harry Battley was the former chief inspector in charge of fingerprint bureau at Scotland yard.
He devised the single fingerprint system of registration which was very simple method. A special magnifying glass was employed in the technique for classifying each fingerprint.
Case Studies – First criminal cases solved by Fingerprints
FRANCIS ROJAS MURDER (1882)
A lady named Francis Rojas murdered her children and came out of her house in blood screaming that her children were murdered. She was convicted due to an evidence of bloody fingerprint or the doorpost.
INDIA’S FIRST CASE (1897)
The manager of tea garden in Bengal was found murdered in his bedroom. The room was in great disarray. Two brown smudges of fingerprints were found on a Bengali almanac. Sir Edward Henry found that those fingerprints belong to a person named Kangali Charan, whose thumbprint has been recorded because of a prior theft conviction.
He was presented after the court for both murder and theft. As the evidence was only the fingerprints and in face of defendant’s non guilty plea, the court seemed sufficiently convinced to find Charan guilty for theft charge and they was unwilling to accept the evidence for a capital charge. Therefore, he was acquitted of murder.