World History Of Forensic Science

The history of forensic science is thousands of years old. Many people believe that “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle” has made forensic famous a lot by his fiction Character “Sherlock Holmes”.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the famous Sherlock Holmes novel and stories was a Scottish physician, who has been acknowledged for his significant contribution in the field of forensic science due to his elaborated use of methods such as fingerprints, serology, ballistics, trace evidence, handwriting analysis, and footprints, etc. way back before they were commonly used by actual legal enforcements. In his first novel “A Study in Scarlet” (1887) he demonstrated his method of inference and deduction in relation to crime scene and criminal profiling.

According to the historical findings Archimedes is considered as the father of forensic science. After examining the density and bounce of the gold crown, he found that it was not made of gold.

In seventh century BC, Maharshi Charaka wrote an Indian Medicine Treatise: “Charak Samhita”. Charaka Samhita is considered to be the most ancient treaties on Ayurveda available till now which have been authored about the seventh century BC. Although Charak paid attention to all aspects of medicine, including the rationale and philosophy behind the Indian medicinal system, he laid special emphasis on the diagnosis of the disease and their treatment . He also elaborated on topics like fetal formation and development, the anatomy of the human body and body functions and defects with the classification of various diseases.


Father of Forensic Medicine (Indian forensic Medicine)

Father of Plastic Surgery/Surgery

He is the writer of Sushruta Samhita. The Sushruta Samhita presents the field of Ayurvedic surgery (shalya) dealing with the practice and theory of surgery around the sixth century BC. Susruta is, also, renowned as the father of plastic surgery. He also wrote about various poisons and their treatments in his book which contains a separate chapter on toxicology. He classified poisons into:

(1) Plant poisons

(2) Animal poisons, and

(3) Artificial poisons.

As it stated in researches use of forensic science first started in China very long back around 7th century. They used fingerprints to keep the document identified and clay sculptures. Fingerprint marks have been used as signature identification for illiterate people since centuries.

In 20th Centuray Bernard Spilsbury is considered as a father of forensic science because of his immense work in legal justice system solely. he shaped and developed techniques to collect and preserve the evidence and also trained Investigating officers for their better field work so that evidence couldn’t be destroyed. He worked on over 25,000 dead bodies and presented his opinions and expertise in many famous cases, such as; Crippen Case, Armstrong Case, Brighton Trunk Murder Case etc. It will not be an exaggeration if I say that he lays the foundation for modern forensic science.

In 7th Century an arabic merchant named as Soleiman used fingerprints as a proof of validity between debtors and lenders.

As it stated in researches use of forensic science first started in China very long back around 7th century. They used fingerprints to keep the document identified and clay sculptures. Fingerprint marks have been used as signature identification for illiterate people since centuries.

A book titled as “Ming Yuen Shih Lu” has also mentioned use of fingerprint in the earlier period around 6th century in China.

Kautilya also mentioned about study of pupillary lines pattern in his book ‘Arthashastra’ thousands years ago. Because of uniqueness of fingerprints, it was common to use as identification. It may be presumed as they used fingerprint as a signature. Fingerprint marks have been used as signature identification for illiterate people since centuries.

In 1775, A Swedish Chemist “Carl Wilhelm Scheele” devised the first successful test for detecting arsenic in corpse and later the work is expanded by German Chemist “Valentin Rose”.

In 1814, Mathieu Joseph Bonaventure Orfila published first scientific treatise on the detection of poison and their effects on animals.

In 1835, Calvin Hooker Goddard pioneered the use of bullet comparison.

Alphonse Bertillon was the first to use fingerprints to solve crime. His Anthropometric method identifying criminals represented a first step toward scientific criminology. Alphonse Bertillon was the first to apply the anthropological technique of anthropometry to law enforcement. He devised a system of identification of criminals which also known as “Bertillon System” which relies on 11 bodily measurements in 1879.

Around 1850s and 1860s, at the time of working in India William J. Herschel started to use fingerprints and handprints as a signature.

In 1880, Henry faulds published a paper on how to catch criminals by fingerprints in “Nature” magazine. Henry Faulds was the first who suggest fingerprints for forensic use.

Francis Galton was the first who studied about fingerprints and uses of it on a scientific basis. He published 3 booklets in the row :

Fingerprints in 1892

Blurred Fingerprints in 1893

Fingerprints Directories in 1895

Galton also published many papers and articles on fingerprints.

In 1893, Juan Vucetich published his first book on “General Instructions for the Anthropometric System and Fingerprints”.

Dr. Edmond Locard formulated the basic principle of forensic science which is “Every Contact Leaves a Trace”. This principle also known as Locard’s exchange principle. Edmond Locard also known as Father of Modern Forensic Science.

Albert Sherman Osborn was the first who introduced questioned document examination and forged document analysis.

Walter C. McCrone (1916 – 2002) Developed advances in microscopic techniques to solve crimes and analyze evidence.

Mark Twain mentioned identification of murder by fingerprint identification.

Luke May developed tool mark striation analysis and observation and published his work in American Journal of Police Science in 1930.

In 1863, A German Scientist named Christian Schonbein discovered the first Preliminary test for blood.

In 1879, A German Scientist Rudolph Virchow had first described the unique characteristics of Hair.

A French Physician “Francois-Emanuel Fodere” wrote “A treatise on Forensic Medicine and public health” in 1978. It was a First Treatise on Forensic Science for understanding of working of the body.

The development of National DNA Index System created by the FBI in 1998.

For detailed History of Forensic Science Buy the Book- “A closer Look On Forensic Science

Written by Archana Singh.

Sources:A Closer Look On Forensic Science written by Archana Singh


Tewari RK, KV Ravikurnar. Development of Forensic Science in India: A Historical Account. Journal of the Indian Academy of Forensic Sciences 1999;38:17-32.

“Forensics Timeline”. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Retrieved 20 December 2011.

^ A Brief Background of Forensic Science Archived 16 December 2009 at the Wayback Machine

Misra SC. A Handbook on Police Organization and Administration, BPR&D; 1977. pp 138-140. #:~:text=About%20The%20Father%20of%20Forensics,investigations%20into%20the%20modern%20age.,40242

Edmond Locard

The Father of Forensics by Colin Evans (2009)

Ramsland K. The Incomparable Witness: Sir Bernard Spilsbury. Forensic Examiner. 2008;17(1):1–70.

Vanezis P. Forensic medicine: past, present, and future. Lancet. 2004;364(Supply 1):8–9.

Kaplan RM. The fallible inflexibility of bernard spilsbury: a charismatic doctor and his discontents. Forensic Res Criminol Int J. 2017;4(2):53-54. DOI: 10.15406/frcij.2017.04.00105

Evolution of Forensic Medicine in India, Dr Shilekh Mittal, M.D., DNB, Dr Sonia Mittal, M.D.,Dr Moneeshindra Singh Mittal, M.B.B.S. JIAFM, 2007 – 29(4); ISSN: 0971-0973

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