Fingerprints are our natural identity card. The patterns at the tops of our fingers, made of up loops, whorls and arches, are entirely unique – so much so that they’re considered our proof of identity. But do those ridges and swirls remain the same from birth to death? Can anything change them? What’s the earliest record of fingerprinting? And how long have fingerprints been used to catch criminals? We’re exploring everything you need to know about the fascinating world of fingerprints in this blog…
What exactly are fingerprints?
Fingerprints are made of an arrangement of ridges called friction ridges. Each ridge contains pores which are attached to sweat glands under the skin. You leave fingerprints on glasses, tables and just about anything else you touch because of this sweat.
What are fingerprint patterns called?
All the ridges of fingerprints form patterns called loops, whorls or arches.
Loops begin on one side of the finger, curve around or upward, and exit the other side. There are two types of loops – radial loops slope toward the thumb, and ulnar loops slope toward the little finger.
Whorls form a circular or spiral pattern.
Arches slope upward and then down.
Fingerprints typically form in the second trimester of pregnancy – usually in the 17th week. As we grow up, the ridges become more visible while retaining the same pattern. This is due to the skin becoming more elastic as time passes. Essentially, the prints scale up gradually. Isn’t it incredible to think that these prints are set in stone before we are even born and stay with us forever?
How unique are fingerprints?
Completely unique. Fingerprints are even more unique than DNA – the genetic material in each of our cells. No two people have been found to have the same fingerprints. There’s a one in 64 billion chance that your fingerprint will match up exactly with someone else’s fingerprints. And did you know that even though identical twins can share the same DNA (or at least most of it), they don’t have the same fingerprints? That’s how utterly unique our fingerprints are to us.
Do fingerprints ever change?
Fingerprints do not change. However, it can be more difficult to capture our fingerprints as we age. This is because the skin loses elasticity with age, and the patterns become less prominent due to the thickening of ridges and furrows. The pores of our skin also become less lubricated, which affects the surface of the fingertips.
Are there factors that can cause fingerprints to change?
A permanent scar could cause someone’s fingerprint to look significantly different. There are also specific jobs that can impact fingerprints. For example, construction workers, especially bricklayers and people who often wash dishes by hand and people who work with chemicals, such as calcium oxide, can lose some details in their fingerprints. But incredibly, this is just temporary, and once they stop these activities, the ridges will grow back.
Certain skin diseases can temporarily alter fingerprints. There’s also a genetic disorder called adermatoglyphia that causes a person to have no fingerprints. In rare cases, cancer treatment can also cause you to lose your fingerprints. In 2008, a man was detained at a USA airport after a drug called capecitabine made him develop hand-foot syndrome, which caused his fingerprints to change.
Can cuts and burns affect your fingerprints?
Amazingly, damaged skin can reproduce cells to form fingerprints exactly as they were before they were damaged, unless the cut penetrates the dermis (the inner layer of the two main layers of the skin). Historically, there have been numerous cases where criminals have tried to alter their fingerprints to get away with their crimes. In one case, gangster John Dillinger attempted to destroy his fingerprints by burning his fingertips with fire and acid. However, his idea backfired, as the skin regrew after a while with his fingerprints still intact.
What is fingerprinting?
Fingerprinting is a form of biometrics – a science that uses people’s physical characteristics to identify them. Through fingerprinting, scientists look at the arrangement, shape, size and number of lines in these fingerprint patterns to distinguish one from another. They also analyse tiny characteristics called minutiae, which can’t be seen with the naked eye.
What’s the earliest known record of fingerprinting?
There are records of fingerprints being taken hundreds of years ago, although they weren’t as sophisticated as they are today. The ancient Babylonians pressed the tips of their fingertips into clay to record business transactions. Early records show the Chinese used ink-on-paper finger impressions for business and to help identify their children.
When did we start using fingerprints to identify criminals?
In 1901, Scotland Yard established its first Fingerprint Bureau. The following year, fingerprints were presented as evidence for the first time in English courts. In 1903, the New York state prisons adopted the use of fingerprints, followed later by the FBI. Since the 1920s, fingerprints have been accepted as evidence in courtrooms due to their uniqueness and permanence. In the last century, countless crimes have been solved solely by matching the criminal’s fingerprints to those found at a crime scene.
Why is fingerprint jewellery growing in popularity?
There’s no doubt fingerprint jewellery is growing in popularity. Our fingerprints are part of our identity, and they’re what make us entirely unique. Capturing fingerprints on a beautiful piece of jewellery is a lovely way to keep a loved one close. This is especially true with memorial keepsakes, including memorial fingerprint jewellery.
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