Introduction: Among many available biometric methods, fingerprint-based identification is the oldest technique which has been successfully used in numerous applications. Every person, male or female, is known to have unique, immutable or unchallengeable fingerprints. A fingerprint is made of a series of ridges (in Persian: Nok-ha, Labeh-ha) and furrows (in Persian: Shyyarha) on the surface of the finger. The uniqueness of a fingerprint can be determined by the pattern of ridges and furrows as well as the minutiae points (in Persian: Jozyyaat). Minutiae points are local ridge characteristics that occur at either a ridge bifurcation (in Persian: Shaakheh, Ensheaab) or a ridge ending. In this article the methods of identification in early civilization, the early history of fingerprinting (in Persian: Angosht Negaari), and the first Iranian record on fingerprinting will be studied and discussed.
Methods of Identification in Early Civilization: In earlier civilizations, branding and even maiming (in Persian: Zakhm, Zarb-o-Jarh) were used to mark the criminal for what the person was. The Romans employed the tattoo needle to identify and prevent desertion of mercenary soldiers. In Arabic culture, the thief was deprived of the hand which committed the thievery. That method of identification is still carried out in some parts of the Muslim World.
Early History of Fingerprinting: Fingerprints have been found on ancient Babylonian clay tablets, seals, and pottery. They have also been found on the walls of Egyptian tombs and on Greek and Chinese pottery, as well as on bricks and tiles in Babylon and Rome.
Fingerprints were also used as substitutes for signatures. References from the era of the Babylonian king Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC) indicate that law officials fingerprinted people who had been arrested. Around 1900 BC, in Babylon in order to protect against forgery and falsification, parties to a legal contract impressed their fingerprints into the clay tablet on which the contract had been written. By 246 BC, Chinese officials impressed their fingerprints in clay seals, which were used to seal documents. With the advent of silk and paper in China, parties to a legal contract impressed their handprints on the document. In China around 300 AD handprints were used as evidence in a trial for theft. In 650 AD, the Chinese historian Kia Kung-Yen remarked that fingerprints could be used as a means of authentication (in Persian: Gavaahi-e Sanad). By 702 AD., Japan had adopted the Chinese practice of sealing contracts with fingerprints.
First Iranian Record on Fingerprinting: In his research article on the History of Fingerprint, Ed German from the US Department of Defense wrote that, "In 14th century Persia, various official government papers had fingerprints (impressions), and one government official, a doctor, observed that no two fingerprints were exactly alike".
The names of those government officials who firstly used the technique of fingerprint identification in Iran are unknown. It should be noted, however, that 14th century Iran was ruled by Sultan Khodabandeh Oljeitu (1304-1316), and Sultan Saiid Bahador (1316-1335) from Ilkhanid Dynasty and by the various rulers of Muzaffarid Dynasty (1314-1393). The doctor who observed that no two fingerprints were exactly alike, and researcher Ed German referred to him was Khajeh Rashiduddin Fazlollah Hamadani (1247-1318). In his famous Farsi book of the Universal History (in Persian: Jaamehol-Tawarikh), Khajeh Rashiduddin Fazlollah Hamadani commented on the practice of identifying people by their fingerprints and wrote that, "Experience shows that no two individuals have fingers exactly alike". Khajeh Rashiduddin was an Iranian physician, a historian, a scholar author and a patriot politician. He served as a Minister (in Persian: Vazir) from 1298 until his death in 1318. In his article, historian Morris Rossabi noted that Khajeh Rashiduddin was the most distinguished figure in 14th century Iran.
On the basis of available evidences cited, Khajeh Rashiduddin Fazlollah Hamadani was most likely the first Iranian who was familiar with the biometric methods and he was the one who introduced the old scientific technique of fingerprint. Though more research works are needed to fully elucidate the role of Khajeh Rashiduddin in the introduction of the relative technique.
Epilogue: Fingerprint has been also considered as one of the powers of an individual. American musician and movie actor Jon Bon Jovi noted that, "Each one of you has something no one else has, or has ever had: your fingerprints, your brain, your heart. Be an individual. Be unique. Stand out. Make noise. Make someone notice. That is the power of individuals"!
Acknowledgement: Sincere thanks go to Engineer Steve Meehan (from Government of Canada, Calgary) who introduced the link of the History of Fingerprint to this author.
German, E. (2009): Online Article on the History of Fingerprint.
Interpol Website (2009): Online Notes on Brief Historic Outline (in pdf).
Jon Bon Jovi (2007): Online Quotations on fingerprints, brain, and heart.
Prabhakar, S. and Jain, A. (2009): Online Article on Fingerprint Identification.
Rossabi, M. (1999): Online Article on Genghis Khan: History of the World Conqueror.
Saadat Noury, M. (2005): Various Notes and Articles on the History of Iran.
Saadat Noury, M. (2009): Online Articles on First Iranians
Wikipedia Encyclopedia (2009): Online Notes on Fingerprint, Rashid-al-Din Hamadani, Ilkhanid Dynasty, and Muzaffarid Dynasty.
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