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Sherlock Holmes Forensic Series: Cryptography

Prior to the age of modern technology, cryptography was synonymous with encryption. The producer of the encrypted message would share the decoding technique only with the intended recipients. This insured the privacy of the message even if it was intercepted.

Question document examiners are scientists who are trained to analyze questioned handwriting, photocopies, papers, inks, and other documentary evidence in order to establish authenticity. We do not determine age, gender, personality or character traits from handwriting. This is referred to as graphology, or handwriting analysis and it is not a validated scientific process.

Question document examiners use a variety of instruments in their work including microscopes, devices that use various light sources and light filters, and machines that reveal and document indented impressions. The Video Spectrum Comparator or VSC allows us to examine a document using various lightwaves not visible to the human eye such as infrared or ultraviolet light. These examinations are very useful in conducting ink comparisons or other tests used to detect document alterations. In fact, inks and papers that appear identical to the naked eye will often appear completely different when viewed under alternate wave lengths of light because they can possess dissimilar chemical properties.

The bulk of question document examinations involve comparing questioned handwriting to a set of known handwriting standards. Generally there are three stages of the handwriting examination. First, the questioned and the known writing samples are analyzed discreetly to assess each for individual handwriting characteristics. Second, the individual handwriting characteristics found in the questioned writing are compared to the individual characteristics found in the known writing sample. The final step involves evaluating similarities and/or differences in the individual characteristics between the questioned and the known writings. This process evaluates the strength of the evidence which is the basis for a questioned document examiner’s conclusion.

Sherlock Holmes Exhibit

The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes was developed by Exhibits Development Group and Geoffrey M. Curley + Associates in collaboration with the Conan Doyle Estate Limited, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and the Museum of London.

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