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In Highlander, how did the detectives identify Russell Nash is from the 18th century just by his signature?

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The detectives are using forensic document examination, which identifies consistencies in handwriting to establish documents written by the same person. They determined that all the signatures in the screenshot were by the same person, who currently calls himself Russell Nash. The first signature is from the 18th century, therefore "Russell Nash" was alive in the 18th century.

It is a genuine technique still used by police forces and investigative organisations the world over, and has yielded convictions; perhaps most famously (of late) assisting in proving the guilt of Robert Durst, as featured in the documentary series The Jinx.

The subtleties of one's handwriting, especially how one writes, are largely subconscious and even if someone is attempting to conceal their handwriting, they can often be given away.

This technique is most commonly used in identifying forgeries; spotting inconsistencies as opposed to similarities.

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  • To add to this, forensic document examination means that the various documents the signatures are on go back to the 1700s. Nothing about the way it's written says 1700, but the document it's from is known to be from that time period.
    – Pureferret
    Mar 3 '17 at 14:56
  • There is nothing in this answer that says anything about the 18th century; is there something obvious that I'm missing? Mar 3 '17 at 16:51
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    @ShreevatsaR In the movie, they are comparing two documents. One is known to be from the 18th century, the other is known to be a current document signed by Russel Nash.
    – Kevin
    Mar 3 '17 at 17:13
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    If my forensic handwriting analysis concluded that it was the same person's signature, I would throw out that analysis. Speaking from a strictly Bayesian point of view, no achievable level of confidence in my analysis could overcome the rather strong prior that people don't live for 300+ years. Mar 3 '17 at 19:48
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    Forensic analysis of signatures would favour comparing with documents from around the same time, since people's handwriting — and signatures especially — change over time. If comparing data a few years apart this is a disadvantage; a few centuries apart becomes meaningless. If it was normal for people to live more than 300 years the reasonable forensic conclusion would still be that the oldest of the wills were forgeries.
    – Jon Hanna
    Mar 3 '17 at 21:30
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They didn't actually determine that he was from the 18th century solely from his signature. What they did was use comparison of the letters in the signature to show that the wills that had been used to pass his property down through the generations had all been signed by the same person, and since the oldest of those documents was from the 18th century, they concluded that he had also been around since the 18th century.

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    This is self-contradictory. Mar 3 '17 at 19:01
  • @MadPhysicist - It looks like it's self-contradictory, but it isn't, from a certain perspective. The OP asked how they figured it out from just "his" signature. In this case, "his signature" being the latest one from Russell Nash. They didn't do it by analyzing just his signature, they compared it to signatures that existed on a previous document and concluded that they were all made by the same person. So, technically all of the signatures on the document are his, but in the context of the question, they are different signatures
    – Taegost
    Mar 3 '17 at 20:38
  • I think you should paraphrase that into your answer. Perhaps change the first sentence to require less explanation? I'd upvote that. Mar 3 '17 at 22:38

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