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Fingerprints can reveal a person's ancestral background

More than just a way to catch criminals, such a breakthrough could aid the study of the movements and evolution of human populations.

By Brooks Hays
Fingerprints can reveal a person's ancestral background
Fingerprints can reveal a person's ancestral background. Photo by Roman Seliutin/Shutterstock

RALEIGH, N.C., Sept. 30 (UPI) -- New research suggests fingerprints can reveal a person's ancestral background.

Researchers at North Carolina State University say their proof-of-concept study, published this week in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, holds promise for both forensic scientists and anthropologists looking to fingerprints for info about the near and distant past.

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Typically, when anthropologists study fingerprints, they look for Level 1 details like pattern types and ridge counts. Forensic scientists are interested in more specific Level 2 details, like where a ridge splits in two.

Study author Ann Ross looked at both.

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"This is the first study to look at this issue at this level of detail, and the findings are extremely promising," Ross, a professor of anthropology at North Carolina State, said in a press release. "But more work needs to be done. We need to look at a much larger sample size and evaluate individuals from more diverse ancestral backgrounds."

Ross and her colleagues built an algorithm to search for patterns and specific distinctions among the fingerprints of male and female participants from both European American and African American ancestral backgrounds.

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While their analysis failed to uncover differences between men and women, they were able to differentiate between the fingerprints of those with African American ancestral backgrounds and those with European American ancestral backgrounds.

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Though the results aren't definitive, they suggest Ross and her colleagues are onto something.

More than just a way to catch criminals, such a breakthrough could aid the study of the movements and evolution of human populations.

"There's a level of variation in fingerprints that is of interest to anthropologists, particularly in the area of global population structures -- we just need to start looking at the Level 2 fingerprint details," Ross said.

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