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Dermatoglyphics, a subdiscipline of palmistry that attempts to discern personality from the study of the epidermal ridges (especially the fingerprints) of the hand, grew out of the study of the papillary ridges on the hands and feet in the 1820s by Johannes Evangelista Purkinje, a Czech physiologist. He developed a nine-pattern classification system of fingerprints, which would be picked up late in the century and applied to the popular use of fingerprints as a means of individual identification by law enforcement.

In 1926, Harold Cummins, a professor of anatomy at Tulane University, coined the term dermatoglyphics, which he first used in a paper in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. The initial paper grew into a book, Finger Prints, Palms and Soles: An Introduction to Dermatoglyphics (1943). Cummins' work would have been less interesting had he not developed an interest in the psychology revealed in the patterns in the hand and become aware of dactylomancy, the practice of predicting the human condition and even the future by interpreting the loops and whorls of the fingerprints.

Only later did Western scientists become aware that there was a long history in the East of dermatoglyphics and that Western palmists had become interested earlier in the twentieth century. It was mentioned by William Benham in his famous 1900 book, The Laws of Scientific Hand Reading, and became a matter of intensive research by Benham's student, Noel Jaquin, in the 1930s. As early as 1933, he speculated that the whorl pattern that he had found present in an unusually high number of criminals indicated a moral defect in the individual. He eventually developed more neutral psychological associations for each major pattern type. Through the 1950s and 1960s, Jaquin and his associate Beryl Hutchinson at the Society for the Study of Physiological Patterns created a large database of fingerprints to pursue this study. Hutchinson's book, Your Life in Your Hands (1967), was followed in the 1970s by two books by American psychic Beverly Jaegers.

During the last quarter of the twentieth century, numerous works on dermatoglyphics were published and the field became an established part of palmistry. In the more recent works, dermatoglyphics has been integrated into the more popular study of the lines and mounds of the palm rather than used as a separate mean of personality interpretation.


Campbell, Edward C. "Fingerprints & Palmar Dermatoglyphics." May 16, 2000.

Hutchinson, Beryl. Your Life in Your Hands. London: Sphere, 1967.

Jaegers, Beverly C. You and Your Hand. Creve Cour, Mo.: Aries Productions, 1974.

Jaquin, Noel. The Hand of Man. London: Faber, 1933.

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dermatoglyphics (der-mă-toh-glif-iks) n.
1. the patterns of finger, palm, toe, and sole prints, which are unique to each individual. Abnormalities are found in those with chromosomal aberrations, e.g. Down's syndrome.

2. the study of these patterns, which is of use in medicine, criminology, and anthropology.