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Identifying Southwest Hispanics Using Nonmetric Traits and the Cultural Profile

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Due to the increasing number of Southwest Hispanics in the United States, as well as the overwhelming number of foreign nationals that die every year trying to enter the United States along the southern United States border with Mexico, new methods for classifying individuals have been established at the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner in Tucson, Arizona (PCOME). For each of the past 5 years, the PCOME has investigated a record number of deaths associated with these border crossings. The overwhelming majority of the identified decedents are Mexican Nationals. However, approximately 25% of these undocumented border crossers have yet to be identified, making it clear that improved methods for human identification are greatly needed. The first goal of this paper is to delineate the suite of skeletal nonmetric traits utilized in assessing Southwest Hispanic ancestry at the PCOME. This suite of nonmetric traits has proven to be an effective component in establishing the “biological profile” of unknown individuals in these cases. The second goal of this paper is to introduce methods used at the PCOME to establish the “cultural profile” of individuals in these cases. The “cultural profile” is a set of identification criteria that include: the geographic context of recovery, personal effects, dental health, and cultural accoutrements. Establishing the “cultural profile” in these cases is essential in identifying individuals as foreign nationals who have died trying to cross the border.
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Keywords: Southwest Hispanics; ancestry; border crossers; cultural accoutrements; cultural profile; forensic anthropology; forensic science; nonmetric traits; personal effects

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner, 2825 East District Street, Tucson, AZ 85714. 2: Department of Anthropology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824.

Publication date: January 1, 2008

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