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The Use of Material Culture to Establish the Ethnic Identity of Victims in Genocide Investigations: A Validation Study from the American Southwest

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Successful prosecution of genocide requires that the victims constitute one of four protected groups: national, religious, ethnic, or racial. Establishing victim identity in prior trials has relied on positive identification of decedents, been largely presumptive, or was based on untested methodology. This report details a validation study of one untested method: the use of material culture in establishing ethnic identity. Classes of clothing and personal effects were scored on 3,430 individuals of known Hispanic or White ancestry from autopsy records in New Mexico. Significant differences were seen in evidence of language, nationality, and religious affiliation between the two groups, as well as clothing types and currency. Predictive models used to estimate ethnic identity in random, blind subsets produced an overall accuracy of 81.5% and estimates of 61–98% in specific subsets. Results suggest material culture, when present, can provide reliable evidence of ethnic affinity in genocide investigations.
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Keywords: ethnicity; forensic anthropology; forensic science; genocide; human rights; personal identification

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Office of the Medical Investigator, University of New Mexico, MSC 11 6030, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001.

Publication date: September 1, 2008

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