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Cranial Nonmetric Variation and Estimating Ancestry

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Historically, when predicting the ancestry of human skeletal remains, forensic anthropologists have not fully considered the variation within human populations, but instead have relied on a typological, experience-based approach. Unfortunately, reliance on observer experience has produced a method that is as much an art as it is a science. This research focuses on the frequency distribution and inter-trait correlations of 11 common morphoscopic traits to demonstrate that the experience-based approach to ancestry prediction is indeed an art that is unscientific, because it is unreplicable, unreliable, and invalid. Ten of 11 traits examined had frequency distributions with significant differences (p < 0.001) between groups, but the range in variation of these traits far exceeds previous assumptions. Such within group variation clearly demonstrates that extreme trait expressions are not reliable for estimating ancestry through visual observation alone, but instead that these traits should be analyzed within a statistical framework.

Keywords: ancestry prediction; forensic anthropology; forensic science; morphoscopic traits; nonmetric traits

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Statistical Research, Inc., Tucson, AZ 85712.

Publication date: 2009-09-01

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