I: Fingerprint Analysis
The History of Fingerprints
Fingerprints have been a constant since the birth of mankind. Over several thousand years, man has been in existence, fingerprints have not changed. Evolution has simply necessitated the analysis and understanding of the skin we possess on our hands and feet. What was once viewed simply as a covering for our skeletal/musculature mass, with distinct characteristics and configuration, we now know has a specific definition and application. As with all things in nature, we possess uniqueness within each of us. This uniqueness is not limited to mankind, but to all primates as well, which was first observed and documented by Johannes (John) Evangelista Purkinje in 1823. Prior to that time, there are documented instances where finger and palm prints were observed but no formal study or analysis was undertaken. The uniqueness of the impressions was captured, but the specificity as to the individualization was not pursued. There are documented instances within various prehistoric sites, as well as other discoveries throughout the world, that indicate fingerprints were somehow used as a method of identity most probably for psychological or superstitious purposes. There has been no supporting documentation of a formula that may have been used with those findings. Assumptions, simple or complex, must be utilized in an attempt to explain the presence of the fingerprints.
It has been well documented that fingerprints have been discovered on mummies in Egypt as well as other artifacts from Mesopotamia and in cave drawings in Nova Scotia. Further examples of the use of fingerprints can be found in Chinese documents from the Tang dynasty, which allude to fingerprints impressed on business contracts. Prehistoric carvings of fingerprints have been noted in France, and finger imprints discovered on broken pottery in Palestine as well. One can see that in one form or another, fingerprints or the fascination with fingerprints is nothing new. One is looking at thousands of years of viewing, in one fashion or another, the fingerprints we all possess. Why then today do we have such a command of fingerprints? What factor(s) can be cited that instigated, in earnest, the research that has laid the foundation for interpretation and analysis of fingerprints? The answer to those questions is multifaceted. However, I believe the main focal point to the equation may be said to coincide with the study of other aspects of the human anatomy, science, and medicine. These disciplines, by their very nature, necessitate that a meticulous methodology is utilized and documented. Theories must be postulated and proved or disproved. With the earliest developments of fingerprint study, practitioners became immersed in the research. As the field became more deeply understood, and the practices more widespread, those practitioners who took up the research and training rose to the level of scientists. The science of fingerprints began with professionals of the day and has expanded to the much more technical application we now know. Does the more technical nature of fingerprint analysis negate the science? Absolutely not. The technical applications serve only to enhance the knowledge that has been established throughout more than four hundred years of research, all of which have contributed to the science. Principles and theories that have been well established will not be diminished. But as with all scientific practices, we must remain vigilant and open to new ideas and theories that may have application to the science of fingerprints.
A brief history of the development of the science and of those who have contributed to this development is outlined. This outline is not all-inclusive but rather foundational. As new research is undertaken and discoveries are made, modification of the outline will be needed. What follows is an overview of the timeline of significant developments, as well as individuals and their contributions to the science.