Forensic Friday

The first criminal fingerprint identification was made in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1892 by Inspector Eduardo Alvarez.

Fingerprints are still evaluated based on the same descriptions of arches, loops and whorls written by Sir Francis Galton in the late 19th century. Who was Galton, you ask? Charles Darwin’s cousin, and a man who attempted to tie personal and intellectual characteristics to physical traits and heredity. He chronicled his experiments in an 1892 book called Finger Prints. While Galton was ultimately disappointed in his experiments, his technique for examining and classifying the whorls, arches and loops of the human fingerprint caught on with Scotland Yard, who then trained other police departments in the collection and classification of fingerprints.

We all know that fingerprints are formed in the womb. The ridges, whorls and loops that make up our individual prints are formed by genetic factors provided by DNA as well as environmental ones; bone growth, pressure within the womb and contact with amniotic fluid. The patterns on our fingers, palms and feet are formed by our fifth month of development, and do not change barring mutilation by disease, acid or fire.

An interesting side-note to this is John Dillinger, who tried to change his face and fingerprints with acid. After he died, experts were still able to identify him through a few remaining ridge patterns.

Because of the unique circumstances in every pregnancy, and through the contribution of DNA, identical twins can have similar prints, but they’ll never have identical ones. Our fingerprints are completely our own.

Think about that the next time you push open a door by putting your hand on the glass!

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