| In ancient Babylon, fingerprints were used on clay tablets to confirm business transactions. Thumbprints have also been found on ancient clay seals in China. In 14th Century Persia, where fingerprints were used on government papers, a government doctor noted that no two fingerprints were alike. |
Dr. Nehemiah Grew The first documented interest in the skin's ridges in the western world, a paper written in 1684 by an Englishman, Dr. Nehemiah Grew, was mainly of an anatomical nature. The famous Italian professor of anatomy, Marcello Malpighi, made notes about the patterns of ridges, spirals and loops in the skin of the fingers in 1686.
Fingerprinting has been developed by several people working in different countries over a period of time from 1850 to 1915.
The first use by an Englishman was in 1858 when Sir William Herschel, a Magistrate working in India, used fingerprints on contracts with the natives. Personal contact in this way was felt to make the contract more binding. This was the first widespread modern day use of fingerprints, interestingly based on superstition rather than scientific evidence. Herschel came to understand the important fact that fingerprints were unique and permanent to an individual throughout his life.
In the 1880s Sir Francis Galton, cousin of the great scientist Charles Darwin, began observations on fingerprints publishing a book on the subject in 1892. In it he identified the characteristics that can be used to identify fingerprints, which are still in use today. He calculated that the chances of two individuals having the same fingerprints were 1 in 64 billion!
Sir Edward Henry, an Inspector with the Indian Police took the technology forward with his book "Classification and Uses of Fingerprints" published in 1900.
In 1911 Thomas Jennings became the first criminal to be convicted on fingerprint evidence. He was found guilty of the murder of Charles Hillier whilst committing a burglary in the United States.
Fingerprints have many important uses for the police. By comparison with fingerprints on a named database, the identity of a person, and whether or not they have a criminal record, can be established. In urgent cases an identity can be confirmed within one hour.
In court they can be used to prove the presence of a suspect at a crime scene and depending on the position of the print, can prove that the suspect committed the crime.
Fingerprints can also be used to eliminate a suspect, clearing them of suspicion.
They persist throughout life without change and remain intact for some time after death, so along with dental records, they can be a sure method of identifying the deceased.
At present fingerprinting is cheaper than DNA profiling and results can be turned around more quickly.
Dr John Bond, Head of the Scientific Support Unit comments "Although established in the UK over 100 years, fingerprint evidence still plays a key role in detecting crime and confirming an offender's identity. Northamptonshire Police now has access to the National Automated Fingerprint Identification System (NAFIS) computer system which has streamlined greatly our approach to searching fingermarks recovered from crime scenes."
Requests for Fingerprints