Richard Gray, Daily Mail, September 29, 2015
Palm readers claim to be able to see a person’s future in the patterns on their hands, but it seems it is possible to also learn about their ancestral past too from their fingers.
Fingerprints–already used as a way to identify individuals–appear to encode information about a person’s ancestral background.
Researchers have found there are distinct differences in how fingerprint ridges split between people of European and African ancestry.
The researchers claim their findings could prove useful not just for anthropologists but also for modern law enforcement when trying to profile suspects.
Professor Ann Ross, an anthropologist at North Carolina State University who led the study, said: ‘This is the first study to look at this issue at this level of detail, and the findings are extremely promising.
‘A lot of additional work needs to be done, but this holds promise for helping law enforcement.
‘This finding also tells us that there’s a level of variation in fingerprints that is of interest to anthropologists, particularly in the area of global population structures.’
The researchers, whose work is published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, examined the right index fingerprints of 243 individuals.
They looked at both the level one details, such as pattern types and ridge counts, and the level two details, which are more specific variations such as bifurcations–where ridges split–ridge endings and other structures.
They analysed the prints of 61 African American women, 61 African American men, 61 European American women and 60 European American men.
While they could not find any significant differences between men and women, they did find significant differences in the level two details of fingerprints between people of European and African descent.
Professor Ross, who worked on the project with student Nichole Fournier, said: ‘The Level 2 detail that was significant for ancestry was total bifurcations.
‘The frequency of total number of bifurcations differed significantly between groups with African Americans showing a higher frequency of this trait.’
This meant that black people tended to have around 5 per cent more bifurcations than those who were white.
It raises the possibility that there may be more details contained within fingerprints which may help trace a person’s ancestry.
The researchers say the findings could also lead to new ways to obtain information from fingerprints left behind at the scene of a crime.
Already researchers have shown it is possible to glean details about a person’s lifestyle from the minute levels of chemicals left behind in their fingerprint.
Trace amounts of drugs like nicotine, for example, can be found in the oils and sweat in a fingerprint while other have shown it is possible to look for metabolites that give clues about diet.
The latest research could open up the possibility of being able to trace someone’s family and ethnic background based on the patterns in their fingerprint.
However the researchers warn that more work is needed before the technique can be reliably used.
Professor Ross said: ‘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 as an area that merited additional study.’
Known as dermatoglyphics, patterns on the soles of the feet, palms, fingers and toes could all be examined to look for distinctive ancestral traits.
Writing in the journal, the researchers said: ‘Identifying the factors that influence the phenotype of dermatoglyphics as well as the underlying hereditary and environmental factors causing this influence would strengthen latent fingerprint examination and contribute new information to anthropological dermatoglyphics.’