It is not exactly known as to who had first used fingerprints for identification and when. But the study of prints and its use can be traced back to the earliest forms of civilization. An archaeologist is of the view that thousands of years back before the B.C. era, fingerprints be used on pottery to indicate the maker and brand of the pottery. In tracing the origin of the fingerprint science and the recognition of prints, one must distinguish the realizations by the finger balls bear diversified ridges and the application of this knowledge to the problem of personal identification.
Unquestionably awareness of the patterned ridges on the fingers and Palm predates the Christian era by many centuries and has been evidenced in varying degrees of successive civilizations. Scholars refer to the impression of fingerprints on clay tablets recording business transactions in ancient Babylon and to the clay seals of ancient Chinese origin bearing thumb impressions.
Clay slabs with prints nearly 3000 years old have been found in Tutankhamen\’s Tomb in Egypt. Copies served as a seal to give authenticity to essential documents in ancient Assyria. Later thumbprints were used as an official seal on documents by Chinese emperors since 240 B.C. Emperor Ts-in-She(240-210 B.C.) was the first imperial authority to use fingerprint seals in China, and these seal\’s remained in use till the times of Emperor WU( 187-156 B.C.). The method of fingerprints on seal very clearly express their significance for identification. Chinese documents of the Tang dynasty (618-906 A.D.) refer to prints being impressed upon business contracts. The use of photographs as seal continued in China up to 1278 A.D. during the Sung period. There is evidence, however, that the fact of the individuality of fingerprints though not put to practical use, dawned recurrently through the ages.
The works of Grew (1684) and Bidloo (1685) are among the earliest scientific descriptions of dermatoglyphics. Grew observed the patterning of the fingers and palm and described the sweat pores and the arrangement of epidermal ridges. Bidloo in his book on Human Anatomy includes a description of the arrangement of ridges in detail. In 1686, Marcello Malpighi commented in his writing on the elevated ridges on the fingerprints and alluded to multiple fingers on palmer surfaces. He perceived the ridges to be drawn into loops and spirals at the end of the finger, but he did not pursue these observations further.
During the eighteenth century, many anatomical works appeared mentioning about the dermatoglyphics. Among them, the contributions of Hintze(1747), Albinus(1764) and Mayer(1788) received more attention. Mayer in his anatomical atlas described that although the arrangement of skin ridges is never duplicated in two persons yet the similarities maybe closer among some individuals. In others, the differences are quite married and yet inspire of their peculiarities of arrangement all have a certain likeness.
Schroter(1814) while discussing the morphology of palmer skin explains the arrangement of ridge and pores. Purkinje\’s contribution of 1823 is an important landmark in the history of fingerprint science because he classified the varieties of finger patterns systematically for the first time. His published a treatise commenting upon the diversity of ridge patterns on the tops of fingers. He further, distinguished nine varieties of patterns of fingerprints. His work was intended only as a scholarly treatise and had no practical application to the problem of identification though he had hinted at some probability of their utilization in personal identification.
W.J. Herschel, in 1858, began the first known official use of fingerprints in India on a large scale. He uses prints to prevent the fraudulent collection of army pay accounts and also for purposes of identity on other documents. He did not, however, develop a method of classification suitable for general use.
Henry Faulds, in 1880, wrote a comment on the practical use of fingerprints for the identification of criminals. This publication is the first item in the modern literature on fingerprint identification. He conducted experiments which established the fact that there is a considerable variation in individual fingerprint patterns and that the models remain unchanged throughout the lifetime of an individual. His further points out that the chance print obtained from a scene of the crime would provide identification of offenders when apprehended.
Francis Galton began his observations around 1890 and published his book on fingerprints in 1892. He established through his study of the individuality and permanence of fingerprints and devised the first scientific method of classifying fingerprint patterns. Gilbert Thompson of United States Geological Survey, in 1882, used his thumbprint on commissary order to prevent forgery.
In 1883, Mark Twain in his episodes related an incident of the identification of a murderer by his thumbprint. In 1894, he further developed his theme in his novel based on dramatic fingerprint identification demonstrated during a court trial and pointed out the infallibility of a fingerprint.
Juan Vucetich, in 1891, installed fingerprint files as an official means of criminal identification. He based his system on the patterns identified by Galton. His method is the basis of those systems presently employed in most of the Spanish speaking countries of Central and South America. He also claimed the first official criminal identification using a fingerprint left at the scene of the crime.
Edward Richard Henry, Inspector General of Police in lower Bengal started an extensive study of on fingerprints in collaboration with 2 Bengali officers Khan Bahadur azizul Haque and Rai Bahadur Hem Chandra Bose to develop a system of classifying the fingerprints. Subsequently, his system gained ground over Bertillon\’s anthropometric card identification system. Henry\’s system of classification of fingerprints was recommended for adoption as a means of identification of habitable criminals in place of the anthropometric system in
March 1897. The first fingerprint Bureau in the world was officially established in Calcutta in June 1897. Soon after it was recognized that the introduction of fingerprints in proof or disproof of identity where the person in question is known and accessible, and has given his prints on a previous occasion, was an extremely efficient method of preventing false personation and forgery of documents.
At present, the FBI identification file contains much over 200 million sets of fingerprints, the ever largest collection anywhere in the world.