history of forensics

The “Eureka” legend by Archimedes (287-212 BC) can be seen as an early account of the use of forensic science. In this case, by examining the principles of water displacement, Archimedes was able to prove that a particular crown was not made of gold, as has been falsely claimed, because of its density and buoyancy. The earliest account of fingerprints being used to verify identity dates back to the 7th century AD. According to Soleiman, an Arab merchant, a debtor’s fingerprints were affixed to a bill which was then given to the lender. This bill of exchange was henceforth legally recognized as proof of the validity of the guilt.

The first written account of the use of medicine and entomology to solve criminal cases is attributed to the book Xi Yuan Ji Lu, translated as Collected Cases of Corrected Injustice, written in China in 1248 by Song Ci (1186-1249). In one of the reports, the case of a person murdered with a sickle was solved by a death investigator who instructed everyone to put their sickles in one place. Flies, attracted by the smell of blood, finally gathered only on a certain sickle. Against this background, the killer finally confessed. The book also offered advice on how to distinguish between drowning (water in the lungs) and strangulation (a broken neck cartilage).

In 16th-century Europe, medical professionals in the army and universities began collecting information about the cause and manner of death. Ambrose Paré, a French army surgeon, systematically studied the effects of violent death on internal organs. Two Italian surgeons, Fortunato Fidelis and Paolo Zacchia, laid the foundations for modern pathology by studying the changes that occurred in body structure as a result of disease. Various writings on these subjects began to appear in the late 1700s. These included – “A Treatise on Forensic Medicine and Public Health” by French physician Fodéré and “The Complete System of Police Medicine” by German physician Johann Peter Franck.

In 1775, a Swedish chemist named Carl Wilhelm Scheele developed a method to detect arsenic oxide, simple arsenic, in corpses, but only in large amounts. This investigation was expanded in 1806 by a German chemist Valentin Ross, who learned to detect the poison in a victim’s stomach walls, and by the English chemist James Marsh, who used chemical methods to confirm arsenic as the cause of death in an 1836 murder trial.

Two early examples of English forensics in individual court proceedings showed the increasing use of logic and procedure in criminal investigations. In 1784 in Lancaster, England, a person named John Toms was tried and convicted of murdering Edward Culshaw with a pistol. When Culshaw’s body was examined, a pistol wad, basically shredded paper used to secure powder and bullets in the muzzle, found in his head wound, matched perfectly with a torn newspaper found in Tom’s pocket . In 1816 in Warwick, England, a farm hand was tried and convicted of murdering a young maid. She had been found drowned in a shallow pool and bore the marks of a violent attack on her body. Police found footprints and a corduroy imprint with a stitched patch in the damp earth near the pool during the investigation. They also found scattered grains of wheat and chaff from the crime scene. The trousers of a farm hand who had been threshing wheat nearby were examined and later matched the imprint in the soil near the pond.

Thanks to Elizabeth Morgan | #history #forensics

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