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The History of Crime Scene Investigation

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Crime scene investigation, or forensic science, involves the group effort of a team of professionals who study the scene of a crime. It takes many individuals who apply a wide range of specific sciences upon every aspect of the scene to complete this investigation. Investigators collect and study evidence such as fingerprints, biologicals like body fluids or skin cells, and ballistics (trajectory dynamics). The earliest forms of forensic science date back to prehistoric times.


Evidence suggests that the investigation of crimes occurred as far back as prehistoric times when early man took fingerprints by pressing hands and fingers into clay or rock. In Nova Scotia, archaeologists uncovered an ancient drawing of the detailed ridge patterns of a hand. Additionally, the ancient Babylonians also made use of fingerprinting on clay tablets for business transactions and as a means to preserve identification for other official needs.

700 B.C. Through 44 B.C.

Forensic science continued to evolve, and in 700 B.C., the Chinese began to record thumb prints on clay sculpture and documents despite having no formal classification system was in place. In 250 B.C., an ancient Greek physician, Erasistratus, created the first lie detector test when he noted that his patients' pulse rate appeared to increase when they lied. In 44 B.C., a Roman doctor examined Julius Caesar's body and discovered that of his 23 stab wounds, only one was fatal.

1100s and 1200s

By 1100 A.D., crime scene investigation had improved to such a degree that Roman attorney Quintilian proved that blood-covered palm prints were left at a crime scene to frame a blind man for the murder of his mother. Nearly 150 years later, in 1248 AD, the first documentation of medical knowledge aimed at solving crimes was recorded in the book "Hsi Duan Yu" (the Washing Away of Wrong). It detailed the process of distinguishing drowning from strangulation.

1300s Through Mid-1800s

Over the next 500 years, advancements in crime scene investigation focused on the many aspects of fingerprint detail and chemical elements like poisons. In 1813, Mathieu Bonaventure Orfila, who is considered the father of modern toxicology, published "Traite des Poisons," and in the mid-1800s, investigators at Scotland Yard began to conduct bullet comparisons. Following these advancements, investigators developed successful tissue tests that identified arsenic as a means of murder.

Late 1800s Through Early 1900s

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, forensic science expanded to include technologies like body temperature to determine time of death and the systematic use of fingerprinting for identification. The portable polygraph machine appeared in 1921 followed by tests to detect gunshot residue in 1933. Other critical discoveries of this time include voiceprint identification technologies, development of an acid phosphatase test for semen detection and early DNA analysis.

Modern CSI

Modern crime scene investigation advanced rapidly through the late 1900s and the early 2000s. Using the solid foundation developed over thousands of years of forensic investigation, modern forensics built upon these technologies and expanded their application to include computer forensics, DNA forensics, entomological (insect) forensics and enhanced biological studies. Crime scene investigation continues to experience rapid technological advancements.


Stacy Taylor has been an Alaska-based freelance writer for 25 years. Her expertise includes health, childhood development and disabilities, photography, history and the arts. Her articles have appeared in "Events Quarterly" magazine,, and She also writes web content for private clients. Her professional experience includes writing, photography, book cover design, publishing, construction and social services.

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