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ALPHONSE M. BERTILLON: HIS LIFE AND THE SCIENCE OF FINGERPRINTS

NCJ Number
145593
Journal
Journal of Forensic Identification Volume: 43 Issue: 6 Dated: (November/December 1993) Pages: 585-602
Author(s)
C L Chapman
Date Published
1993
Length
18 pages
Annotation
This is a biography of Alphonse M. Bertillon.
Abstract
Alphonse M. Bertillon is credited with devising a scientific approach for the identification of criminals known as the Bertillon System of Identification (Signaletic Instructions). He is sometimes credited with significant involvement in establishing the science of fingerprints, but, in fact, he opposed their use right up to his death in 1914. Yet, his efforts to create a means for reliable personal identification did, indirectly, foster the development of fingerprint identification. The Bertillon System of Identification is divided into three parts: (1) the Anthropometrical, which involves measuring, with precision and under prescribed conditions, some of the most characteristic dimensions of the bony structures of the body; (2) the Descriptive or Morphological, an observation of the body shape and movements along with noticeable characteristics of mental and moral qualities; and (3) the Signalment by Peculiar Marks, or Pathological Signalment, the observation of the peculiarities occurring on the surface of the body resulting from disease, accident, deformity, or artificial disfigurement. Descriptions and illustrations of measurement procedures are included in the article. Although Bertillon endeavored to maintain support for his methods, other discoveries, including fingerprinting, eventually removed the need for an anthropometric measurement system to establish personal identification. Bertillon had dramatically altered and improved police practices with his system of identification, but resisted an even better revolution. Bertillon did not avoid fingerprints, but seems never to have accepted the theory of fingerprints being permanent and individually unique. Five-item bibliography