New research has found that it is possible to identify an individual's ancestral background based on his or her fingerprint characteristics.
"This is the first study to look at this issue at this level of detail, and the findings are extremely promising," said senior study author Ann Ross, professor of anthropology at North Carolina State University in the US.
Anthropologists have looked at fingerprints for years, because they are interested in human variation. While Level one fingerprint details reveal basic variations such as pattern types and ridge counts, Level two details show more specific variations, such as bifurcations, where a fingerprint ridge splits.
For this study, researchers looked at Level one and Level two details of right index-finger fingerprints for 243 individuals: 61 African American women, 61 African American men, 61 European American women, and 60 European American men.
The fingerprints were analyzed to determine whether there were patterns that were specific to either sex or ancestral background.
The researchers found no significant differences between men and women, but did find significant differences in the Level two details of fingerprints between people of European American and African American ancestry.
"This holds promise for helping law enforcement," Ross said.
"This finding also tells us that there is 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," she noted.
"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 pointed out.
The findings appeared in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology