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Humans’ fascination with fingerprints began thousands of years ago, as evidenced by the pictures left behind. Prehistoric cave art, including a hand with ridge patterns, was discovered in Nova Scotia. Other caves in France depict images of finger and footprints dating back further than 15,000 BCE. During the reign of Hammurabi in Babylon (1955–1913 BCE), fingerprints were used as seals on contracts, indicating an awareness of the unique and personal nature of the raised patterns on the fingers. This practice is also attributed to the Chinese as early as the second or third century BCE. Throughout the world over the next 2000 years, fascination with fingerprints evolved into study and applied knowledge that has laid the ground work for one of the most powerful forensic tools available to the modern criminal investigator. Listed here is a more detailed timeline of this fingerprint history:

  • • Circa 1200, China: Fingerprints featured as a criminal identification tool in a novel.

  • • 1600s, England: Function of the pores in the hands and feet are described.

  • • 1600s, Italy: Friction ridges studied under the microscope, a new invention.

  • • 1700s, Germany: Awareness of the uniqueness of fingerprints.

  • • 1800s, Germany: Fingerprint patterns classified.

  • • 1800s, India: Fingerprints recorded to defeat fraud in pension payments.

  • • 1800s, Great Britain: Further studies upholding the individual nature of friction ridge detail.

  • • 1800s, Great Britain: Endorsement of the unchanging and, hence, reliable nature of fingerprints for identification.

  • • 1890s, Argentina: Development of an operational fingerprint identification system for police investigations.

  • • 1892, Argentina: First criminal case in history to be solved by fingerprints.

  • • 1896, Great Britain: Development of Henry System, the method used to classify sets of fingerprints until replacement by computer databases.


  • Friction Skin
  • Physical Evidence
  • Fingerprint Pattern
  • Latent Fingerprint
  • Fingerprint Identification

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Suggested Reading

  1. Ashbaugh DR. Quantitative-Qualitative Friction Ridge Analysis, An Introduction to Basic and Advanced Ridgeology. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

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  2. Lee HC, Harris HA. Physical Evidence in Forensic Science. Tuscon, AZ: Lawyers & Judges Publishing Co, pp. 131–145.

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  3. Siegel JA, Saukko PJ, Knupfer GC, eds. Encyclopedia of Forensic Sciences. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, pp. 854–899.

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© 2006 Humana Press Inc., Totowa, NJ

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Dalrymple, B.E. (2006). Fingerprints. In: Mozayani, A., Noziglia, C. (eds) The Forensic Laboratory Handbook. Forensic Science and Medicine. Humana Press.

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  • Publisher Name: Humana Press

  • Print ISBN: 978-1-58829-464-7

  • Online ISBN: 978-1-59259-946-2

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