Fingerprints: Keys to Ancestry

The whorls and ridges unique to your fingerprint may reveal more than just identity. Research from North Carolina State Univ. indicates these unique stamps may give clues to your ancestral background.
“This is the first study to look at this issue at this level of detail, and the findings are extremely promising,” said senior author Ann Ross, a professor of anthropology.

“But more work needs to be done. We need to look at a much larger samples size and evaluate individuals from more diverse ancestral backgrounds.”

The study sample consisted of 243 nail-to-nail rolls of the right index finger. Fingerprints were collected from 122 African Americans, 61 males and 61 females, and 121 European Americans, 61 females and 60 males.

While the researchers found no difference between males and females of similar ancestry, differences were found in regards to ancestral background.

Fingerprints can be analyzed on three different levels, according to the researchers. Anthropologists typically focus on level one, characterized by pattern type (arches, loops and whorls) and ridge counts.

Forensic scientists focus on level two and three details. Level two refers to the shape, direction and orientation of the traits forming friction ridges; and level three focuses on the microscopic level, including pores.

Studying level one and level two, the researchers found differences in the total amount of bifurcations depending on ancestral background. Bifurcations are points at which a single ridge splits into two, and are characterized as level two details.

According to the study, bifurcation frequency for European American males and females was 24.9% and 24.5%, respectively, while for African American counterparts it was 27% and 30.6%, respectively.

“A lot of additional work needs to be done, but this holds promise for helping law enforcement,” said Ross.

“And it’s particularly important given that, in 2009, the National Academy of Sciences called for more scientific rigor in forensic science—singling out fingerprints in particular.”

Source : R & D


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