On the Skin-Furrows of
In looking over some
specimens of "prehistoric" pottery found in Japan I was led, about a
year ago, to give some attention to the character of certain finger-marks which
had been made on them while the clay was still soft. Unfortunately all of those
which happened to come into my possession were too vague and ill-defined to be
of much use, but a comparison of such finger-tip impressions made in recent
pottery led me to observe the characters of the skin-furrows in human fingers
generally. From these I passed to the study of the finger-tips of monkeys, and
found at once that they presented very close analogies to those of human beings.
I have here few opportunities of prosecuting the latter study to much advantage,
but hope to present such results as I may attain in another letter. Meanwhile I
would venture to suggest to others more favourably situated that careful study
of the lemurs, &c., in this connection, as an additional means of throwing
light on their interesting genetic relations.
An ordinary botanical lens is of great service in bringing out these minor
peculiarities. Where the loops occur the innermost lines may simply break off
and end abruptly; they may end in self-returning loops, or, again, they may go
on without breaks after turning round upon themselves. Some lines also join or
branch like junctions in a railway map. All these varieties, however, may be
compatible with the general impression of symmetry that the two hands give us
when printed from.
The lines at the ulno-palmar margin of this particular Japanese are of the parallel sort in both hands, and are quite symmetrical, thus differing from the Englishman's considerably. These instances are not intended to stand for typical patterns of the two peoples, but simply as illustrations of the kind of facts to be observed. My method of observation was at first simply to examine fingers closely, to sketch the general trend of the curves as accurately as possible, recording nationally, sex, colour of eyes and hair, and securing a specimen of the latter. I passed from this to "nature-printing," as ferns are often copied.
A common slate or smooth board of any kind, or a sheet of tine, spread over very thinly and evenly with printer's ink, is all that is required. The parts of which impressions are desired are pressed down steadily and softly, and then are transferred to slightly damp paper. I have succeeded in making very delicate impressions on glass. They are somewhat faint indeed, but would be useful for demonstrations, as details are very well shown, even down to the minute pores. By using different colours of ink useful comparisons could be made of two patterns by superposition. These might be shown by magic lantern. I have had prepared a number of outline hands with blank forms for entering such particulars of each case as may be wanted, and attach a specimen of hair for microscopic examination. Each finger-tip may best be done singly, and people are uncommonly willing to submit to the process. A little hot water and soap remove the ink. Benzine is still more effective. The dominancy of heredity through these infinite varieties is sometimes very striking. I have found unique patterns in a parent repeated with marvelous accuracy in his child. Negative results, however, might prove nothing to parentage, a caution which it is important to make.
I am sanguine that the careful study of these patterns may be useful in several ways.
1. We may perhaps be able to extend to other animals the analogies found by me
to exist in the monkeys.
Already I have had experience in two such cases, and found useful evidence from these marks. In one case greasy finger-marks revealed who had been drinking some rectified spirit. The pattern was unique, and fortunately I had previously obtained a copy of it. They agreed with microscopic fidelity. In another case sooty finger-marks of a person climbing a white wall were of great use a negative evidence. Other cases might occur in medico-legal investigations, as when the hands only of some mutilated victim were found. If previously known they would be much more precise in value than the standard mole of penny novelists. If unknown previously, heredity might enable an expert to determine the relatives with considerable probability in many cases, and with absolute precision in some. Such a case as that of the Claimant even might not be beyond the range of this principle. There might be a recognizable Tichborne type, and there might be an Orton type, to be one or other of which experts might relate the case. Absolute identity would prove descent in some circumstances.
I have heard, since coming to these general conclusions by original and patient
experiment, that the Chinese criminals from early times have been made to give
the impressions of their fingers, just as we make ours yield their photographs.
I have not yet, however, succeeded in getting any precise or authenticated facts
on that point. That the Egyptians caused their criminals to seal their
confessions with their thumb-nails, just as the Japanese do now, a recent
discovery proves. This is however quite a different matter, and it is curious to
observe that in our country servant-girls used to stamp their sealed letters in
the same way. There can be no doubt as to the advantage of having, besides their
photographs, a nature-copy of the for-ever-unchanging finger-furrows of
important criminals. It need not surprise us to find that the Chinese have been
before us in this as in other matters. I shall be glad to find that it is really
so, as it would only serve to confirm the utility of the method, and the facts
which may thus have been accumulated would be a rich anthropological mine for
[Some very interesting examples of nature-printed finger-tips accompanied this
letter. - Ed.]