History Of The Fingerprint

By Grace Taylor
A fingerprint scanner is integrated into the printed circuit. (Surasak Suwanmake/Getty Images)

It may seem like a product of modern technology and science, but fingerprinting got its start in ancient China, when the fingerprint was used as a seal and signature on government documents. Likewise, fingerprints have been known to act as a mark in ancient Babylonian, Greek, and Egyptian societies. Although the technology for identifying fingerprints would not come for some time, the fact that no two fingerprints seemed to be alike was noted as far back as the 1200s by Iranian doctor Rashīd al-Dīn Faḍlullāh Hamadānī.

More precise analysis of the fingerprint occurred during the 19th century, when Johannes Evangelista Purkinje identified nine separate patterns comprising unique arches, loops, and whorls (which are basically the ridges that link other patterns together) in 1823. Using this system, William Herschel began using the fingerprint to verify wills, making sure no greedy friend or family member was getting in on the deceased's estate unless they were given the ol' thumbs-up by the dearly departed.