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Sliding compass, for criminal identification system, Paris, France, 1870-1910

The Bertillon system for criminal identification used this large sliding compass to measure the foot, the middle and little finger, and the elbow. French criminologist Alphonse Bertillon (1853–1914) developed an identification system called anthropometrics. It recorded detailed physical measurements to identify individuals. Bertillon used the compass and other tools to measure height, head circumference, arm length, leg length, and even finger lengths. His system was used to identify suspects in criminal cases. The system was extremely popular in France, leading to many convictions. It was superseded by more accurate and less labour-intensive fingerprinting. Bertillon pioneered many modern forensics techniques such as the ‘mug shot’, which is the standardised photography of criminals.

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Glossary: anthropometry

The measuring of body parts so that comparisons can be made. The aim is to measure normal and abnormal development. In the past, it has also been used in attempts to measure racial difference.

Glossary: anthropometrical measure

The practise of measuring different parts of the human body in the hope of using them to determine personal characteristics. The practise is no longer accepted as scientific.