Fingerprints: The First ID
Fingerprints are the oldest and most accurate method of identifying individuals. No two people (not even identical twins) have the same fingerprints, and it is extremely easy for even the most accomplished criminals to leave incriminating fingerprints at the scene of a crime
Each fingerprint has a unique set of ridges and points that can be seen and identified by trained experts. If two fingerprints are compared and one has a point not seen on the other, those fingerprints are considered different. If there are only matching points and no differences, the fingerprints can be deemed identical. (There is no set number of points required, but the more points, the stronger the identification. Fingerprints can be visible or latent; latent fingerprints can often be seen with special ultraviolet lights, although on some surfaces a simple flashlight will identify the print. Experts use fingerprint powder or chemicals to set a print; they then “lift” the print using special adhesives.
The pioneer in fingerprint identification was Sir Francis Galton, an anthropologist by training, who was the first to show scientifically how fingerprints could be used to identify individuals. Beginning in the 1880s, Galton (a cousin of Charles Darwin) studied fingerprints to seek out hereditary traits. He determined through his studies not only that no two fingerprints are exactly alike, but also that fingerprints remain constant throughout an individual’s lifetime. Galton published a book on his findings in 1892 in which he listed the three most common fingerprint types: loop, whorl, and arch. These classifications are still used today