Dermatoglyphics (from ancient Greek derma = “skin”, glyph = “carving”) is the scientific study of fingerprints. The term was coined by Dr. Harold Cummins, the father of American fingerprint analysis, even though the process of fingerprint identification had already been used for several hundred years. All primates have ridged skin, and it can also be found on the paws of certain mammals and on the tails of some monkey species. In humans and animals, dermatoglyphs are present on fingers, palms, toes, and soles, and give insight into a critical period of embryogenesis, between 4 weeks and 5 months, when the architecture of the major organ systems is developing. (Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dermatoglyphics).
Dermatoglyphic: Pertaining to dermatoglyphics — the study of dermal ridges on the fingers, palms, toes, and soles. (http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=40312)
Cave drawings and petroglyph diagrams dating back thousands of years provide a record of early man’s interest in hands, however, the significance of these pre-historic samples is subject to broad interpretation.
What can be stated with certainty is that as early as 500 BC Babylonian business transactions are recorded in clay tablets that include fingerprints, and at approximately the same time, Chinese documents are found having clay seals imprinted with the fingerprint of the author.
Perhaps the most bizarre use of fingerprints in recorded history dates to sixteenth century China where the sale of children is concluded by placing their hand and foot prints on the bill of sale.
The first “official” mention of fingerprints is in 1684: Dr. Nehemiah Grew lectures to the Royal College of Physicians of London about the interesting markings found on human fingertips.
The next two centuries finds scientists busy exploring the globe, cataloguing animal and plant species, and learning about the basic form and function of the human body. During this period, the study of fingerprints and line formations inches forward. Some notable landmarks:
- 1685 Gouard Bidloo First book with detailed drawings of fingerprints
- 1686 Marcello Malpighi Professor of Anatomy at the University of Barcelona. First to chronicle observations of fingerprints under microscope.
- 1788 J.C.A. Mayer First to write out basic tenets of fingerprint analysis. “Although the arrangement of skin ridges is never duplicated in two persons, nevertheless, the similarities are closer among some individuals. In others, the differences are marked, yet in spite of their peculiarities of arrangement, all have a certain likeness.”
- 1823 John E. Purkinje Professor of Anatomy at the University of Breslau. First classification system, nine print categories.
- 1833 Sir Charles Bell Anatomist: studied structure and function of hands. The Hand: Its Mechanism and Vital Endowments as Evincing Design.
- 1858 Sir Wm. Herschel British Chief Administration Officer Hooghly District, Bengal India.
- 1880 Dr. Henry Faulds Tsukji Hospital, Tokyo; article in Nature.(8) Suggests picking up fingerprints at crime scene.
- 1883 Mark Twain Life on the Mississippi: Dramatic fingerprint identification secures conviction.
- ???? The Will West Case At around the turn of the century, Will West was brought to Leavenworth, Kansas for incarceration. When questioned about his prior record, West denied ever have been incarcerated before. The Bertillon Measurement System was employed (detailed facial measurements used to establish identification) and a match was found in the prison records. The matching file included the Bertillon measurements and a photograph that looked just like the new prisoner. The name on the file was William West. The only problem was that William West was already in prison, serving a life sentence for murder!
Fingerprints were taken of William West and compared to the new prisoner, Will West and proved beyond a doubt that these were two distinct individuals. In one fell swoop. fingerprint analysis leapfrogged three alternate identification systems: name, photo, and the Bertillon System.
- 1892 Sir Francis Galton Anthropologist, cousin of Charles Darwin, Finger Prints is his landmark publication. If Cummins is the father of dermatoglyphics, Galton is the “inventor”. First practical method of fingerprint identification, responsible for basic nomenclature (arch, loop, whorl). Scientifically demonstrated permanence of fingerprints, first twins research.
- 1897 Harris Hawthorne Wilder First American to study dermatoglyphics. Named the A, B, C, D triradii points, invented the Main Line Index, studied thenar hypothenar eminencies, zones II, III, IV.
- 1904 Inez Whipple First serious study of non-human prints.
- 1923 Kristine Bonnevie First extensive genetic studies.
Harold Cummins, M.D.
Doctor Cummins is universally acknowledged as the Father of Dermatoglyphics. Harold studied all aspects of fingerprint analysis, from anthropology to genetics, from embryology to the study of malformed hands with from two to seven fingers. He pulled together the diverse work of his predecessors, added original research and set the standards of the field still in force to the present. His famous Down Syndrome studies predicted a genetic link to the disease based upon the presence of the Simian Crease.
His willingness to stake his reputation on research that only became scientific “fact” two decades later cemented his place in history and brought national attention to dermatoglyphics.
Most medical studies utilize the following methodology: two populations are compared using some combination of the following list of common variables (see below), or less frequently, new variables are suggested. Hand prints are taken, measurements are done, mathematical formulas are created. The first population, the one under study, is found to be strikingly different, slightly different or about the same as the control group. A paper appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association (or similar scientific journal) that chronicles the findings.
For instance, Mitral Valve Prolapse, a form of heart disease, is associated with an abnormally high number of Arches; Breast Cancer, in recent studies, has been linked to a high number of Whorl patterns. Genetic oriented diseases have received the most scrutiny (Trisomy, Tay Sachs, etc.), but correlation have been found to Alzheimer’s, tuberculosis, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and many more medical conditions.
Psychological abnormalities have also been studied. Unusual ATD angles in combination with other statistical anomalies are common in various forms of retardation. At least 34 research papers have been published on schizophrenia. Children with behavior weird enough to get them into a clinic have had their hand prints compared to control groups and were found to have significantly different patterns than normal children.
Another use of dermatoglyphics has been in anthropology. Population studies reveal distinct variation according to type and sub-type and have been used to determine the origin of various groups (Thor Heyerdahl notwithstanding, the original inhabitants of the Pacific Islands emigrated from Asia, not South America). Until recently (when DNA testing took over), the most scientifically acceptable test to determine whether twins came from the same egg or not was the dermatoglyphic test.
More Recent History
Although Cummins stands alone as the giant of dermatoglyphic research, (almost all researchers have either built upon his methodology or followed his lines of inquiry) others since have added greatly to the field and the understanding of the evolution of fingerprints and line formations.
By the early 1980’s, DNA testing had replaced the dermatoglyphic test as the standard in twin studies, issues of paternity, and chromosome disorder research. The Genome Project, a “big science” project that intends to fully map human DNA within the next several years, has gobbled up the funding that used to sustain dermatoglyphic research.
Terry Reed, who teaches dermatoglyphics at the University of Indiana Department of Medical Genetics concludes that “Until the major genetic disorders have been mapped and sequenced, it will likely be several years before a shift occurs towards the study of normal morphological traits, such as dermatoglyphics…When this happens, the results may prove to be quite fascinating.”(40)
At a conference on the state of dermatoglyphics (1991), various researches laid out their vision of the future. The good news is that several possible applications of dermatoglyphics seem quite promising. For instance:
Dermatoglyphics may be in position to become the primary means of assessing complex genetic traits(41)
Because fingerprints and line formations form during vital stages of fetal development, dermatoglyphic studies are in a unique position to evaluate the effect of toxins on the intrauterine environment (over 20% of all pregnancies never come to term).(42)
Dermatoglyphics are still useful for the evaluation of children with suspected genetic disorders and diseases with long latency, slow progression, and late onset.(43)
The new findings that rats have dermatoglyphic patterns (Bonnevie, with all her detailed research had missed this [rat dermatoglyphics are quite small] and until recently, no one had looked) opens up a whole new realm of experimental possibilities.(44)
However, there are some obvious problems above the funding problem previously discussed. The most commonly discussed:
Small sample sizes
Limited number of variables studies per research paper
Control group inadequacy
Statistical methodology errors
No agreed upon standard for line evaluation
It is interesting to note, that all these difficulties link together with one problem: although scanner technology and computer capabilities have advanced enormously in recent years, there exists no current method and no new mathematically advanced software to apply these new technologies to dermatoglyphic research.(45)
The history of science is replete with examples of new technologies creating the possibility of new advances: Galileo uses the telescope, Loewenhook gets his hands on a microscope, etc. It is exciting to contemplate what could happen when (not if) the study of dermatoglyphics makes use of the advances already in use by other branches of science.
Dermatoglyphics’ Application for Talent Recognizing in Indonesia
DMIPrimagama developed test for talent recognizing by using basic idea of Dermatoglyphics. The theory of Multiple Intelligence (MI) was introduced by Howard Gardner. Inventor of MI applications in the classroom is Thomas Armstrong. Developer / Tekonologi-based talent search and MI or DMI (which was developed in Indonesia) are Eric Lim Choo Siang and John Choo.