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Police, anthropometry, and fingerprinting: The article explores the transnational circulation of methods for identifying people in South America.

It analyzes both the implementation of the anthropometric system at police departments in Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil starting in the s, as well as the criticisms that were aimed at this method when fingerprinting took hold in the region in the early twentieth century. The history of the anthropometric system in these three countries involved many travels by physicians, jurists, and police agents to Paris, debates over its suitability to local contexts, and an open controversy about identification techniques.

After he failed to make a career as a physician, his father — then director of Statistics — was obliged to use his influence within the government bureaucracy to arrange a discreet post for Alphonse as a clerk in the Paris police prefecture, where he started working in He soon began working in the criminal records office, where identification cards for those convicted by the courts were created and stored.

Judges used these cards to verify whether someone in custody had a police record, since a repeat offense might result in a stiffer sentence. While Bertillon was working at the police, a law was under discussion to provide for the deportation of recidivists to the French colonies; it was passed in Soula, Identification cards were being filed in alphabetical order by name and this criterion was proving inadequate for two reasons.

The first was quantitative: The second problem stemmed from a subterfuge employed by the accused to avoid a tougher sentence, based on recidivism. According to the police, the use of an alias to cover up a prior record was a common practice that the authorities had been unable to circumvent. Bertillon devised an identification method that found great response around the world, once it had overcome resistance in France.

In response to this problem, Bertillon started experimenting with a new classification method based on the body measurements of those in custody. As Bertillon saw it, every adult male bears a kind of identification code, imprinted on his body. These data were written on index cards, which were then classified into distinct categories, following an order that reduced the number of cards until there was a box containing only a dozen. The system also included: Once Bertillon had succeeded in convincing the Paris police to implement his system in the s About,the procedure when the identity of someone in custody was unknown became to take him to the Identification Office, where staff would record his measurements.

Files were searched to confirm any cases of recidivism and identity was then verified directly. Owing to these techniques and other inventions related to crime scene investigations, Alphonse Bertillon is recognized as one of the founding fathers of modern scientific police work.

Bertillon laid out his ideas at the first Congress of Criminal Anthropology, held in Rome in and attended by Lacassagne and Lombroso. Neither a physician nor an attorney, Bertillon was a member of the steering committee for the second congress, convened in Paris inwhere — as we shall see — the anthropometric system for identifying individuals and proving recidivism won definitive international acclaim.

In the closing decade of the nineteenth century, bertillonage crossed borders in an intense process of transnationalization; anthropometric offices appeared around the globe, with Latin America standing out Piazza, In this article, we analyze implementation of the anthropometric system in Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil, the Latin American countries where most European immigrants settled and where the debate over the consequences of anonymity in large cities was especially heated.

We explore the main demographic and urban transformations that accounted for a fast-spreading interest in police identification systems under discussion around the world.

We also analyze resistance to the adoption of bertillonage and the emergence of competing systems. The main cities in Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil with offices of anthropometric identification lay in Atlantic South America where maritime routes linked the two large Rio de la Plata ports of Buenos Aires and Montevideo with Brazilian port cities.

This was a territory where journeys of lives, languages, identities, and collective dactiloecopia intertwined. Traveling these same routes, bertillonage was a central part of an unprecedented exchange of police knowledge among the three South American republics.

Conjoining methodological strategies from comparative history and transnational history, we investigate these flows and exchanges in these pages. Anthropometric measurements Bertillon,s.

In recent decades, the study of transborder networks, exchanges, and ties has engendered thought-provoking research and a variety of methodological proposals: The purpose is not, in the words of Pierre-Yves Saunierp. At the intersection of the scientific field and state bureaucracy, the international circulation of identification methods enables a discussion of two fundamental questions. On the one hand, we can problematize the interpretative key that explains scientific exchanges as a mere transfusion of ideas from a center that produces science to a periphery that receives it.

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Recent studies have shown that the circulation of identification systems involved complex networks of transborder police cooperation on various continents Breckenridge, Szreter, ; Brown, About, Lonergan, Police departments in Atlantic South America were especially attentive to technological and legal innovations in neighboring countries, since they believed the space between Rio de la Plata and Brazil constituted a shared surveillance concern. Beazley, who was histlria Rio de Janeiro in the company of President Roca, had taken with dactilooscopia a proposal to tighten ties between the Brazilian and Argentinean forces.

Latin America joined in the dispute that was widespread in the northern hemisphere and that countered the French model — deemed a paradigm of centralization and militarism — with the Anglo-Saxon one, which took a more civil- and municipal-minded approach Emsley, Latin American police discussed these ideas and wrote about these models in their own magazines. Many of their opinions were formed through their readings; a review of the card catalogues at public libraries in Argentina and Brazil detects the presence of various books on European police, added to the shelves during the nineteenth century Galeano, We know this thanks to some travel reports and books: News of bertillonage reached South America owing to these travels, which often included visits to the anthropometric service in Paris and personal meetings with Alphonse Bertillon.

A network of international contacts linking South American and European police gradually gained shape, but at its outset it was not exclusively a police network. The first contacts took place in at the Congress of Criminal Anthropology in Rome.

The debates at the event quickly reached the south through intellectuals who were keen on the new ideas of the Italian school of criminology. Buenos Aires took the initiative by founding the Society of Forensic Anthropology in and launching a number of local publications Olmo, ; Creazzo, Members of the society had close ties with government personnel, including the chief of police.

He met with Bertillon in Paris in late and upon return convinced the police administration that it would be opportune to create an anthropometric service. The internal order that officialized its inauguration made clear the intent to fall in step with Paris and other Old Historiia capitals: The second Congress of Criminal Anthropology was held in Paris in as part of the centennial celebrations of the French Revolution.

Bertillon was the star of one table, while various attendees from different countries discussed whether his anthropometric system would be accepted worldwide as an identification method. Returning this kindness, Bertillon interjected that the Argentinean government had been the only one to open an official anthropometric service up to that point, whereas dactiloecopia a few private initiatives had been created in the United States.

How was it that the first official anthropometric office to be established outside of France was in Buenos Aires? The correlate to the ambitious projects that drew their inspiration from the Haussmannian model was the sactiloscopia of police institutions.

The Dactilsocopia Aires police department was then 60 years old and during that time it had served as a security force for both the city and the vast province of the same name. When Buenos Aires took on the role of federal capital, a new capital had to be invented for the province, one that would have its own police department.

Catalog Record: Brief history of identification | Hathi Trust Digital Library

What had previously been a single institution was therefore split in two: Inthe central department moved into a luxurious new building, which still houses police headquarters today, and the anthropometric office was installed there. The overall context of police modernization is essential to understanding why bertillonage reached Buenos Aires so quickly.

It is likewise important to take into account the ties that bound state elites with jurists and physicians who had tight connections both to international circuits where scientific innovations circulated and especially to the reception of criminology in Argentina. But no interpretation of this phenomenon can overlook hjstoria appeal of this identification system in a city overwhelmed by a massive influx of immigrants. Although the United States was the country that received the most European immigrants from the mid-nineteenth through the early twentieth century in absolute numbers, immigration had greater relative importance in Argentina.

Much as these national data are striking, they conceal deep regional differences and in the city of Buenos Aires, the impact was even ce marked: The population of the capital rose from roughlyto 1,, making it the second-largest city in the Americas, outranked only by New York. As the size of the population changed, so too did its make-up. Young men formed the majority in this Babelic metropolis. Despite government propaganda and discourses proclaiming the gamut of advances that European immigration would bring, the new arrivals were soon the brunt of various accusations and suspicions.


Fears about the new inhabitants found expression in the press and popular literature. How could you know who was who in this city where l were deceptive? The police historla these questions and reformulated them as they saw fit. In this context, would it be possible to find anybody in dacttiloscopia city? An internal se issued by the chief set out the terms of its operation: From the perspective of the police administration, there were several reasons for inaugurating the service: Science appeared to have the answer to a problem that had been prompting steadily greater police concern ever since immigration had intensified: The old forms of identification based on personal knowledge seemed to founder in the face of demographic change and constant transformations in the police force itself.

Police authorities yistoria high hopes for the new service, yet resistance soon surfaced. Given all this resistance, the group of measurable subjects was substantially reduced, and it was quite random whether a new card would make it into the biometric files; in the office itself quit performing new identifications Ruggiero,p.

Despite this constant criticism of the Anthropometric Office at the turn of the century, a more thoroughgoing analysis hidtoria its daily operations reveals a separate reality.

Why did the Anthropometric Office stir so much resistance?

It had faced opposition from judges from the outset, dde its quantitative results were hardly negligible. It identified hundreds of repeat offenders every year, including some who had tried to conceal their identities behind aliases. Inthe provincial government set up its headquarters in the newly built city of La Plata, and its police department started down a long road of symbolic disputes with the Capital City Police. Juan Vucetich arrived in Argentina that same year.

An immigrant from present-day Croatia, Vucetich was to play a fundamental role in the development of identification systems in Latin America. Though some authors consider Vucetich to have been part of a group of European scientists who traveled to Latin America in those years in search of suitable arenas for testing out new theories Rodriguez,available biographic information suggests dsctiloscopia the Croatian was an immigrant like so many others; the direction his career took was defined by the fact that he joined the police department and by the ensuing job opportunities that presented themselves.

Inhe entered the financial area of the provincial police service on the basis of merit and one year later was promoted to head of the Statistics Office.

Laboratorio Tecnico De Dactiloscopia

It was undoubtedly his knowledge of mathematics and his interest in cultivating new theories that soon raised him to the ranks of the institutional elite, in a context where it was hard to recruit literate police officers. Vucetich quickly set about studying the possibility of adopting one of the latest innovations in police science. After several visits to the Buenos Aires Anthropometric Office, which was still headed by Drago, he reached the conclusion that it would be very challenging to implement the anthropometric system properly.

According to Vucetich, the measurements done at this office were often flawed and the same was undoubtedly the case throughout the Buenos Aires municipal police Almandos,p. At the same time, the Province of Buenos Aires was so large geographically speaking that the infrastructure costs and skills required to open local offices were prohibitive, and so it was hard to identify all who were taken into custody.

In Septemberwhen an anthropometric identification service was inaugurated in La Plata and bertillonage became a routine part of the work there, Vucetich began recording prints from all ten fingers of those arrested — a pioneer endeavor on the world stage.

Although it is hard to determine whether he classified the cards in the beginning, for the first time ever and in a small office in a city still under construction, ten fingerprints were systematically taken for police identification purposes. He employed judicial photography and recorded morphological descriptions.

Over the course of the s, he introduced some changes both to fingerprinting itself and to the classification of prints. Back of an identification card from the La Plata identification office, which displayed anthropometric measurements Museo Policial de la Provincia de Buenos Aires, La Plata, This meant discarding bertillonage, as its classification system was anchored in these measurements.

Yet he maintained other features of the method devised by Bertillon, such as judicial photography and certain morphological descriptions.