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History of Forensic Science

If you remember the term ‘Eureka’, then you would also know where the History of Forensic Science started. History considers Archimedes (287-212 BC), the man behind the exclamation ‘Eureka,’ as the father of forensic science. He had exulted when he had found out that a crown was not made of gold, (as it was falsely claimed) by its density and buoyancy. After Archimedes we come to know of another early forensic science application by Soleiman, an Arabic merchant of the 7th century. He used fingerprints as a proof of validity between debtors and lenders.

In the 700s, the Chinese also used the fingerprint concept. In the 1000s, Quintilian, a prosecutor in the Roman courts, used a similar method to solve murders. The first document that mentions the use of Forensics in legal matters is the book Xi Yuan Ji Lu (translated as “Collected Cases of Injustice Rectified”) written in 1248 by Chinese author Song Ci.

Forensic science became quite widespread in 16th century Europe. Medics began to use their knowledge to investigate the cause of death. Ambrose Paré, a French army surgeon, two Italian surgeons, Fortunato Fidelis and Paolo Zacchia were some of the pioneers in this field.

Then we have a series of written record like “A Treatise on Forensic Medicine and Public Health” by the French physician Fodéré and “The Complete System of Police Medicine” by the German medic Johann Peter Franck and the first dissertation on systematic document examination published by François Demelle of France. In 1686, Marcello Malpighi, a professor of anatomy at the University of Bologna, identified the fingerprint method.

In the 18th century, many scholars did some groundbreaking work in Forensics. Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele and German chemist Valentin Ross led the way. England also solved a number of murder cases using forensic science. For instance, in the year 1784 in Lancaster, John Toms was convicted of murder, when a torn bit of a newspaper in a gun was found matching a leftover paper in his pocket.

In the 19th century, scholars like Thomas Bewick, an English naturalist, Spanish professor of medicinal/forensic chemistry Mathiew Orfila, John Evangelist Purkinji, professor of anatomy at the University of Breslau, to name a few, made history in forensic science.

Eugène François Vidocq is another name in record since he established the first detective force, the Sûreté of Paris. Then can we forget Arthur Conan Doyle who wrote the first Sherlock Holmes case in Beeton’s Christmas Annual of London?

In the 20th century, there was no stopping the forensic timeline. It was the time when we got the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The FBI launched its Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) with the first computerized scans. With the arrival of the computer, there was no looking back. Today there is no crime solving without forensic science. The History of Forensic Science is there to prove its worth.

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