In his post yesterday
, Chuck mentioned that police were using "earprints" to track down criminals. The use of earprints may be something new, but the use of ears to identify criminals is actually pretty old.
Back in the late 19th century, the French detective Alphonse Bertillon
developed an elaborate ear classification system, in the belief that ears could be used as a unique means of identification, in the same way that fingerprints were. The Strand Magazine (May 1904)
ran an article, with accompanying ear pictures, about Bertillon's system:
The feature that presents the greatest diversity of form and size is the ear, and, strangely enough, the ear is precisely a feature which we hardly ever consciously look at. It has been reserved for M. Bertillon to point out how admirably it is adapted for the purpose of establishing a person's identity. The size of the ear, the relative proportions to one another of the folds, its contour, the surface and shape of the lobe, the manner the lobe is attached to the cheek, and the inclination of the bottom interior ridge known as the antitragus differ most materially in every individual. Let a modern French detective describe an ear as "Deq. cav. vex. tra. sep"; all his colleagues are immediately able to form a mental image of the description of ear he means.
Bertillon's ear classification system was quite influential. It's the reason that police started taking mugshots from the side, as well as from the front, so that they could get a picture of the criminal's ear.