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Quantification of Maxillary Dental Arcade Curvature and the Estimation of Biological Ancestry in Forensic Anthropology

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Previous studies suggest that palate shape is a useful indicator of biological ancestry in human remains. This study evaluates interobserver error in ancestry estimation using palate shape and explores palate shape variation in Gullah (descendants of West Africans) and Seminole (Indigenous American) population samples using geometric morphometric analysis. Ten participants were asked to ascribe biological ancestry and shape to 28 dental casts based on a classification scheme employed in previous studies. The mean correct classification was 42.0%, indicating that the likelihood of assigning the correct ancestry is very poor and not significantly different from random assignment (= 0.12). The accuracy analysis based on categorical classification of the casts was complemented by geometric morphometric analysis of nine 3D landmarks reflecting palate shape of 158 casts. Principal component analysis results show no difference between populations regarding palate shape, and cross‐validated discriminant function analysis correctly classified only 62.0% of the specimens. Combined, these results show that previous methods to estimate ancestry are inaccurate and that this inaccuracy is probably due to a lack of palate shape differences between groups, rather than limitation of the analytical method per se. Therefore, we recommend caution should be used when choosing to apply the analysis of palate shape in forensically relevant contexts.
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Keywords: discriminant function analysis; forensic science; geometric morphometric analysis; human variation; principal components analysis

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2016

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