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A fingerprint in its narrow sense is an impression left by the friction ridges of a human finger. The recovery of fingerprints from a crime scene is an important method of forensic science. Fingerprints are easily deposited on suitable surfaces (such as glass or metal or polished stone) by the natural secretions of sweat from the eccrine glands that are present in epidermal ridges. These are sometimes referred to as "Chanced Impressions".
In a wider use of the term, fingerprints are the traces of an impression from the friction ridges of any part of a human or other primate hand. A print from the sole of the foot can also leave an impression of friction ridges.
Deliberate impressions of fingerprints may be formed by ink or other substances transferred from the peaks of friction ridges on the skin to a relatively smooth surface such as a fingerprint card. Fingerprint records normally contain impressions from the pad on the last joint of fingers and thumbs, although fingerprint cards also typically record portions of lower joint areas of the fingers.
Human fingerprints are detailed, nearly unique, difficult to alter, and durable over the life of an individual, making them suitable as long-term markers of human identity. They may be employed by police or other authorities to identify individuals who wish to conceal their identity, or to identify people who are incapacitated or deceased and thus unable to identify themselves, as in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Fingerprint analysis, in use since the early 20th century, has led to many crimes being solved. This means that many criminals consider gloves essential. In 2015, the identification of sex by testing the fingerprint biochemical content (rather than visual pattern) has been reported.