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Forensic Misclassification of Ancient Nubian Crania: Implications for Assumptions about Human Variation

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Forensic Misclassification of
Ancient Nubian Crania:
Implications for Assumptions
about Human Variation
frank l’engle williams, robert l. belcher,
and george j. armelagos
Department of Anthropology and Geography, Georgia
State University, P.O. Box
3998
, Atlanta, GA
30303
(frankwilliams@gsu.edu) (Williams)/Department of
Social Science, Atlanta Metropolitan College,
1630
Metropolitan Parkway, Atlanta, GA
30310
(Belcher)/
Department of Anthropology, Emory University,
Atlanta, GA
30322
(Armelagos), U.S.A. 15 xi 04
The fundamental pattern of human biological diversity
was widely held in premodern anthropology and contem-
porary folk ideologies to be principally “racial”—that is,
largely homogeneous within groups and heterogeneous
between them. The groups in question were often pre-
sumed to represent entire continents or subcontinents. By
the middle of the twentieth century, however, this view
had come under considerable scrutiny (Montagu 1941,
Livingstone 1962, Washburn 1963, Lewontin 1972). Mod-
ern physical anthropology recognizes the major features
of human biological diversity as polymorphic (within-
group variation being quantitatively predominant), clinal
(i.e., structured as gradients), and culturally mediated (as
both the largely arbitrary agglomeration of physically di-
verse peoples into “races” and the response of the body
itself to the cultural conditions under which it develops).
Forensic anthropology has been much more reluctant
to divorce itself from the premodern partitioning of hu-
man biological variation into races (Smay and Armelagos
2000), despite the fact that human biological variation
in genetic markers (Lewontin 1972, Stoneking 1993) and
cranial morphology (Relethford 1994) is quantitatively
greater within than between major geographic regions or
2005 by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Re-
search. All rights reserved 0011-3204/2005/4602-0010$10.00
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Volume
46
, Number
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, April
2005
F 341
races. Pressure from local law enforcement officials who
insist on “knowing” the social race of unknowns may
prompt some forensic anthropologists to designate racial
affinity (provided that the sex of the individual can be
determined), producing classifications that some have
called “bureaucratic races.” However, the use of forensic
tools to determine ancestry must assume that a given
cranium is more similar to those of the ascribed popu-
lation than to those of any other (e.g., Byers 2002). The
fact that populations are variably defined as geographic
regions, islands, countries, reproductive isolates, lan-
guages, cultures, or race categories may severely limit
the reliability of such diagnoses.
Fordisc 2.0 is a computer program designed to stan-
dardize the attribution of population affinity for forensic
analysis and to provide a user-friendly method for as-
cribing “social race” to unknowns. Social race is an ap-
proximation of biological affinity and is used as the most
practical means to identify unknown individuals, re-
gardless of their actual ancestors (Ousley and Jantz 1996).
A basic premise of the program is that the unique cra-
niofacial form of a given population remains stable
through generational time and is largely resistant to en-
vironmental factors. This premise has recently received
support from a revisionist historical study claiming to
have identified statistical flaws in the initial study of
changes in the bodily form of immigrants (Sparks and
Jantz 2002; cf. Gravlee, Bernard, and Leonard 2003). This
development has strengthened the perceived efficacy of
Fordisc 2.0 by suggesting that population and racial traits
are constant over time and space.
The popularity of Fordisc 2.0 parallels recent public
interest in forensic anthropology, the race concept, and
race determination. New forensic anthropology texts
present the program uncritically even when it yields de-
terminations opposite to those derived from morpholog-
ical evaluation. Hard Evidence, a forensic anthropology
reader (Steadman 2003), features five articles that use
Fordisc 2.0 (none of them exclusively to determine race
and/or sex), and in two of them it yielded the opposite
of standard morphological determinations. Forensic Os-
teological Analysis (Fairgrieve 1999) includes two con-
tributions that utilize Fordisc 2.0 to (1) confirm a mor-
phological evaluation of sex and (2) determine ancestry
(this attempt proved unsuccessful). Byers’s (2002) Intro-
duction to Forensic Anthropology embraces Fordisc 2.0
alongside the nonmetric traits traditionally used by
many forensic anthropologists to define social race. The
program is “highly recommended” for diagnosing race
and sex in the popular Forensic Anthropology Training
Manual (Burns 1999:40).
Reports of Fordisc 2.0 analyses in the primary litera-
ture are scarce, suggesting that practitioners of this pro-
gram are using a tool that has not been systematically
tested for validity. Fordisc 2.0 produced poor results in
Ubelaker, Ross, and Graver’s (2002) study of sixteenth-
and seventeenth-century Spanish crania, with half the
crania being attributed to non-European/North African
samples using one of its data sets, Howells’s (1973, 1995)
cranial series, and less than half attributed to the white
category using its other data set, the Forensic Data Bank
(Ousley and Jantz 1996). Ubelaker et al. (2002) never-
theless call it “a powerful tool in forensic analysis that
is routinely employed in most North American forensic
laboratories” and generally support its use provided that
care is taken when the samples are not represented in
either of its databases (see also Ousley and Jantz 1996).
Other researchers are less convinced of Fordisc’s prac-
tical use. Fukuzawa and Maish (1997) sought to ascribe
ancestry to Native Canadians without success, and
Leathers, Edwards, and Armelagos (2002) and Belcher,
Williams, and Armelagos (2002) found that the program
failed to classify populations as expected. We used both
of its data sets to identify cranial remains from an an-
cient Meroitic Nubian population and found that it ac-
curately classified very few of these remains.
materials and methods
Ancient Nubia, located on the upper Nile between the
first and fourth cataracts, was ancient Egypt’s most pow-
erful rival and important trade partner on the African
continent (Williams 1999). From Pre-Dynastic times to
the Roman conquest, Nubia and Egypt borrowed heavily
from each other’s material culture and maintained sub-
stantial genetic admixture (Keita 1992, Krings et al. 1999,
Williams 1999). While Brace et al. (1993) found Egyptians
craniofacially distinct, they also identified a north-south
gradient of craniofacial traits from the Nile Delta
through Nubia to Somalia. Keita (1992) found that First
Dynasty Egyptians from Abydos were similar morpho-
metrically to those from Kerma (south of Nubia). A re-
cent study on mtDNA suggested that modern Nubians
and Egyptians are much more similar to one another than
either is to southern Sudanese populations and that the
divergence between the two northern populations may
have occurred during the past few hundred or few thou-
sand years (Krings et al. 1999).
We hypothesized that, using Howells’s data in Fordisc
2.0, our Nubian crania (dated 350 BCE–AD 350) would
be identified as Late Period Dynastic Egypt (Twenty-
sixth to Thirtieth Dynasties, 600200 BCE), since these
data correspond roughly geographically to ancient Nubia.
Howells’s (1973, 1995) cranial series consists of 28 skel-
etal samples: Easter Island, Medieval Norse, Zalavar (me-
dieval Hungary), Berg (Austria), Egypt (Twenty-sixth to
Thirtieth Dynasties), Teita (Kenya), Dogon (Mali), Zulu
and San (South Africa), Andaman Islands, Lake Alex-
andrina Tribes (Australia), Tasmania, Tolai (New Brit-
ain), Mokapu (Hawaii), Buriat (Siberia), Inuit (Greenland),
Arikara and Santa Cruz Island (North America), Yauyos
(Peru), Ainu, Hokkaido, and Kyushu (Japan), Atayal (Tai-
wan), Guam, Anyang and Hainan (China), Moriori (Chat-
ham Islands), and the Philippines, roughly equally di-
vided into 50 males and 50 females for each sample.
Although Fordisc 2.0 is intended to identify only un-
knowns represented in its control population sets, it will
theoretically classify an individual to its nearest geo-
graphical neighboring population when one is available
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342 F current anthropology
(Ousley and Jantz 1996).
1
Alternatively, the Nubian ma-
terial might have been classified as other African con-
tinental populations (e.g., the Teita of Kenya or the Do-
gon of Mali), although these scenarios are less likely
because these populations are temporally distinct from
ancient Meroitic Nubia and farther from Nubia than
Egypt. We expected the Nubian population to cluster as
a group and to be attributed to populations geographi-
cally near it.
Next, following Ubelaker, Ross, and Graver (2002)we
subjected the Nubian crania to Fordisc’s Forensic Data
Bank series, which includes American blacks (150 males,
125 females), American Indians (50 males, 29 females),
American whites (271 males, 195 females), Chinese (79
males), Hispanics (39 males), Japanese (100 males, 100
females), and Vietnamese (51 males) (Jantz and Moore-
Jansen 1988, Ousley and Jantz 1996). We expected the
program to identify the Nubian sample as black or white.
We did not expect any of these crania to be classified as
Chinese, Japanese, or Hispanic because of the geographic
distance separating these populations from Northeast Af-
rica. Since sex can also be ascribed using Fordisc 2.0,we
conducted two tests using the Forensic Data Bank, one
with sex known and the other with opposite sex known.
We anticipated that the sex attributed to a given cranium
would not alter the ascribed biological affinity of that
individual. If populations can be readily defined as dis-
crete multivariate clusters, as they are in Fordisc 2.0,we
would predict distinct morphological patterns to be ex-
hibited by both males and females of a given population,
despite the arguably more obvious patterns of sexual di-
morphism observed in human crania.
The craniofacial linear distances we used were ob-
tained by one of us (GJA) from an archeological series of
Nubian crania originating from sites opposite modern
Wadi Halfa (215728 N and 311910 E) in present-day
Sudan. We used 12 cranial measurements for each cra-
nium: glabella to opisthocranion, maximum cranial
breadth, bizygomatic breadth (distance between the most
lateral points of the zygomatic arches), basion to bregma,
nasion to basion, basion to prosthion, prosthion to al-
veolon, minimum frontal breadth (distance between the
two frontotemporale), nasion to nasopinale, nasal
breadth (maximum breadth of the nasal aperture), dac-
ryon to ectoconchion, and orbital height (distance be-
tween the superior and inferior orbital margins). Of the
original 46 adult crania available, 20 crania were male,
20 female, and 6 indeterminate. Of these 46 crania, 4
individuals were excluded because they were missing
three measurements, but we included 3 crania that were
missing only one of the 12 measurements. Fordisc 2.0
was used to identify each of the remaining 42 crania.
The measurements were chosen on the basis of pres-
ervation of the material and the choices given by Fordisc
1. Ousley and Jantz (1996) caution Fordisc 2.0 users to avoid clas-
sifying individuals from ethnic groups that are not represented in
the database of the program. However, forensic anthropologists may
not know a priori whether an isolated cranium derives from one
of Fordisc’s reference samples.
2.0. These same measurements have been utilized by
numerous craniometric studies and have been shown to
have diagnostic value (see Howells 1995 and references
therein). To ascertain whether the Nubian cranial data
were comparable to the control samples in Fordisc 2.0,
we compared the Nubian sample with all the African
populations from Howells’s (1995) data set. Half of the
traits compared between the Nubian and the Egyptian
populations yielded nonsignificant differences (p
! 0.05),
which is greater than or equal to the number of nonsig-
nificant differences obtained by comparing the Egyptian
sample with other African populations (San, Zulu, Teita,
Dogon). This suggests that the Egyptians are more sim-
ilar to the Nubians than they are to any other African
population.
In Fordisc 2.0, an unidentified skull is ascribed a pop-
ulation affinity by identifying the closest Mahalanobis
distance from the unknown to the mean vector scores
for each of Fordisc’s skeletal samples. Additionally, For-
disc 2.0 calculates the typicality and posterior statistical
probabilities that a single cranium belongs to a specific
group. Posterior probabilities (which sum to 1) ascertain
the likelihood that a given cranium belongs to more than
one sample, whereas typicality probabilities (from 1.0 to
0.000) identify whether a given unknown is statistically
significantly different from the population ascribed by
the program. Typicality probabilities of 1.0 suggest that
a given cranium has values that lie exactly on the mean
of one of Fordisc’s populations, whereas typicality prob-
abilities less than 0.05 suggest that the cranium is sig-
nificantly different from the population attributed by
Fordisc 2.0 (Ousley and Jantz 1996; Jantz, personal com-
munication).
results
The Howells series. Fordisc 2.0 could not effectively clas-
sify ten of the crania, and of the remainder, eight were
identified as Late Period Dynastic Egyptian, six as Za-
lavar, four as Easter Islander, three as Lake Alexandrina
Tribes, and three as Norse (Medieval Norway). Eight
were not significantly different from eight separate pop-
ulations: Teita, Andaman Islands, Zulu, Arikara, Santa
Cruz Island, Ainu, Hokkaido, and Atayal. In no case did
a nonsignificant typicality statistic exhibit a nonsignif-
icant posterior probability, indicating that each cranium
did not belong to a skeletal sample other than the one
indicated by the typicality statistic. The typicality sta-
tistics were neither uniformly high nor low (table 1).
The Forensic Data Bank. Our data were analyzed twice
using the Forensic Data Bank in Fordisc 2.0 to examine
the degree to which specifying the sex of an individual
might alter the results. When the original sex determi-
nations (derived from associated pelvic material) were
used, 14 of the crania were significantly different from
the population specified by Fordisc 2.0 (typicality p
!
0.05). Of the remaining crania, 12 were identified as
white, 11 as black, 3 as Japanese, 1 as Hispanic, and 1
as Native American. When the sex determination was
changed to the opposite of the one identified in the orig-
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table
1
Fordisc 2.0 Results Using Howells’s Cranial Data
ID Attributed Sex Population Ascribed by Fordisc 2.0 Posterior p Typicality p
1 Indeterminate Zalavar (Hungary)
a
0.172 0.003
2 Male Lake Alexandrina Tribes (Australia) 0.517 0.138
3 Male Lake Alexandrina Tribes (Australia) 0.520 0.303
4 Male Late Period Dynastic Egypt
a
0.907 0.000
5 Female Norse (Norway) 0.326 0.091
6 Female Zalavar (Hungary) 0.109 0.864
7 Female Teita (Kenya) 0.233 0.197
8 Female Zalavar (Hungary) 0.315 0.589
9 Male Late Period Dynastic Egypt 0.427 0.312
10 Female San (South Africa)
a
0.841 0.000
11 Female Andaman Island 0.272 0.529
12 Male Zalavar (Hungary) 0.153 0.996
13 Female Santa Cruz Island 0.320 0.146
14 Female Easter Island
a
0.994 0.000
15 Indeterminate Easter Island 0.460 0.795
16 Female Hokkaido (Japan) 0.251 0.351
17 Male Norse (Norway) 0.188 0.728
18 Male Santa Cruz Island
a
0.294 0.040
19 Male Easter Island 0.307 0.713
20 Male Lake Alexandrina Tribes (Australia) 0.571 0.533
21 Female Zulu (South Africa) 0.401 0.780
22 Indeterminate Late Period Dynastic Egypt 0.427 0.312
23 Male Easter Island 0.203 0.299
24 Male Zulu (South Africa)
a
0.391 0.002
25 Female Late Period Dynastic Egypt 0.332 0.561
26 Male Atayal (Taiwan) 0.190 0.915
27 Indeterminate Easter Island 0.298 0.348
28 Female Late Period Dynastic Egypt 0.349 0.239
29 Female Peru
a
0.826 0.000
30 Female Late Period Dynastic Egypt 0.281 0.470
31 Male Zalavar (Hungary) 0.109 0.864
32 Male Late Period Dynastic Egypt
a
0.994 0.003
33 Male Late Period Dynastic Egypt 0.582 0.222
34 Female Late Period Dynastic Egypt 0.363 0.438
35 Male Zalavar (Hungary) 0.349 0.518
36 Female San (South Africa)
a
0.712 0.002
37 Male Ainu (Japan) 0.348 0.152
38 Female Easter Island
a
0.344 0.043
39 Male Zalavar (Hungary) 0.406 0.051
40 Male Late Period Dynastic Egypt 0.356 0.443
41 Indeterminate Arikara (America) 0.190 0.172
42 Indeterminate Norse (Norway) 0.313 0.701
a
A cranium is significantly different from the population ascribed by the program (typicality p ! 0.05).
inal morphological analysis, the number of crania ex-
hibiting a typicality p
! 0.05 increased to 17. Eleven of
the crania (excluding those with p values
! 0.05) changed
population when the sex determination was changed to
its opposite (fig. 1), suggesting that Fordisc 2.0 relies
heavily on the assigned sex determination in attributing
population affinity. The identities assigned to the crania
in this test (9 black, 7 white, 7 Hispanic, 1 Chinese, and
1 Japanese) differed most markedly from the previous
analysis in that the Hispanic category increased sub-
stantially.
discussion
The fact that the Nubian crania were overwhelmingly
misclassified and that only eight were grouped with Late
Period Dynastic Egypt may have a variety of explana-
tions. Since there is no Meroitic Nubian sample in the
program’s data sets, there may have been no specific ref-
erence sample to compare with these ancient crania.
However, Howells’s populations were selected to sample
the cranial variation found on the continents. If the Late
Period Dynastic Egyptian crania differed greatly from the
Nubian ones—and our t tests suggest that they do not—
then the Nubian crania might have been classified with
other geographically close populations such as the Teita
or the Dogon. Alternatively, we might suspect all of the
typicality probabilities to be significantly different from
the populations ascribed by the program. Instead, Fordisc
2.0 classified the Nubian crania with populations over
an enormous geographic range, including North and
Central Europe, Easter Island, the Andaman Islands, Ja-
pan, Taiwan, South Africa, Australia, and North Amer-
ica. Fordisc’s treatment of X-group Nubians corroborates
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344 F current anthropology
Fig. 1. Population ascribed using Fordisc
2.0
’s Foren-
sic Data Bank. Left bar of each pair, original sex as-
signment; right bar, opposite original sex assignment.
these results (Leathers, Edwards, and Armelagos 2002).
If Fordisc 2.0 is revealing genetic admixture of Late Pe-
riod Dynastic Egypt and Meroitic Nubia, then one must
also consider these ancient Meroitic Nubians to be part
Hungarian, part Easter Islander, part Norse, and part Aus-
tralian Aborigine, with smaller contributions from the
Ainu, Teita, Zulu, Santa Cruz, Andaman Islands, Ari-
kara, Ayatal, and Hokkaido populations. In fact, all hu-
man groups are essentially heterogeneous, including the
samples within Fordisc 2.0. Using F
ST
heritability tests,
Relethford (1994) demonstrated that Howells’s cranial
samples exhibit far more variation within than between
skeletal series. There is no reason to assume that the
heterogeneity of the Late Period Dynastic Egyptian pop-
ulation exceeds that characterizing our Nubian sample.
This heterogeneity may also characterize the popula-
tions in the Forensic Data Bank; Fordisc 2.0 classified
the Meroitic Nubians not as either all black or all white
but as black, white, Hispanic, Chinese, Japanese, and
Native American.
The fact that these groupings exist in the Forensic Data
Bank of Fordisc 2.0 may stem from a specific understand-
ing of race in America. Folk taxonomies of race are
largely nation-specific because they develop from unique
historical and demographic factors. For example, the flu-
idity and multiplicity of racial terms in Brazil corre-
sponds to the lack of hypodescent rules (attributing one’s
social race to the race of the minority parent) and mis-
cegenation laws; an individual’s ascribed whiteness or
blackness may change with respect to economic pros-
perity (money “whitens” [Degler 1970]). In Trinidad, the
folk separation of groups uses a much wider range of
labels, to the point that full siblings may be of different
“races” (Segal 1993). Attribution of race depends heavily
on culturally constructed definitions of human differ-
ence.
Our results suggest to us that Fordisc 2.0 is funda-
mentally flawed not only because these types are cul-
turally mediated but because statistically defined pop-
ulations cannot adequately represent the biological
variation that characterizes individuals within each pur-
ported group. The idea that human beings represent dis-
tinct and divisible biological types is rather recent in
human history (Marks 1995), and the lines that are drawn
to make distinctions are based on socioeconomic factors
and historical circumstances rather than strictly on bi-
ological criteria (Armelagos 1995, Goodman 1995, Marks
1995). The type concept relies upon an “idealized” in-
dividual that describes only a minute fraction of the var-
iation it is intended to represent. Forensic anthropology
has often been called upon to substantiate typological
thinking and to reinforce the type concept itself.
The idea that head type is stable through time and
thus resistant to environmental factors was very popular
among natural scientists from the seventeenth to the
nineteenth century. Mid-twentieth-century physical an-
thropology sought to trace independent human lineages
by associating craniofacial remains from past popula-
tions with their supposed modern counterparts (Boule
and Vallois 1957, Coon 1962). During the same period,
several studies demonstrated plasticity of body type
through such processes as developmental acclimatiza-
tion (Baker 1969, Frisancho 1970) and migration to new
areas (Shapiro 1939, Bogin 1988). This may help to ex-
plain why European Upper Paleolithic populations do
not resemble modern Europeans (van Vark 1994), why
Kennewick man does not resemble modern Native
Americans (van Vark, Kuizenga, and Williams 2003, con-
tra Jantz and Owsley 2003), why American-born children
of immigrants resemble their parents less than European-
born children of immigrants do (Boas 1912, contra Sparks
and Jantz 2002), and why Mesolithic Nubians do not
resemble Meroitic Nubians (Van Gerven, Armelagos, and
Rohr 1979). This reflects simply what is known about
the patterns of variation in the human cranium: it is to
some extent an inborn characteristic and also develop-
mentally very sensitive to the conditions of growth.
While we acknowledge that many scientists are fully
aware of the problems inherent in Fordisc 2.0 and in race
determination generally, our experiment provides a point
of view that is rarely examined within forensic anthro-
pology, that is, that human cranial populations are sus-
pect as real biological units equivalent to the cultures,
languages, geographic regions, and social histories they
are intended to represent.
conclusions
We argue that Fordisc 2.0, encapsulating the major skel-
etal markers and statistical techniques in forensic an-
thropology, offers little information with regard to the
biological affinity of Meroitic Nubians. Given the claims
of the program, we predicted that the Nubian population
would cluster as a single entity and that the cluster
would reflect an affinity to Late Period Dynastic Egyp-
tians or possibly to other African continental popula-
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Volume
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2005
F 345
tions. The program failed both tests. We suggest that
skeletal specimens or samples cannot be accurately clas-
sified by geography or by racial affinity because of (1) the
wide variation in crania of the known series that cross-
cuts geographic populations (polymorphism), (2) the
clinal pattern of human variation, and (3) cultural and
environmental factors. Even a presumably homogeneous
population such as the Meroitic Nubians shows exten-
sive variation that preclude its classification as a geo-
graphic group.
The control population sets within Fordisc 2.0 lack
the distinctive morphology necessary to make this fo-
rensic application a useful tool for classifying an un-
known cranium because the populations used are defined
not on the basis of biology but on the basis of the vari-
ation in skeletal series or on self-assignment to folk cat-
egories that have strong sociohistorical (e.g., black,
white), national (Chinese, Japanese), and linguistic (His-
panic) components. Our results suggest that the attempt
to classify populations into natural geographic groups or
races—as if all of these groupings were biologically
equivalent—will continue to fail (Armelagos and Van
Gerven 2003).
It is well known that human biological variation is
principally clinal (i.e., structured as gradients) and not
racial (i.e., structured as a small number of fairly discrete
groups). The possibility that skeletal material could be
accurately sorted by geographic origin, at any other level
than geographic extremes, is quite small. We have shown
that for a temporally and geographically homogeneous
East African population, the most widely used “racial”
program fails to identify the skeletal material accurately.
The assignment of skeletal racial origin is based prin-
cipally upon stereotypical features found most fre-
quently in the most geographically distant populations.
While this is useful in some contexts (for example, sort-
ing skeletal material of largely West African ancestry
from skeletal material of largely Western European an-
cestry), it fails to identify populations that originate else-
where and misrepresents fundamental patterns of hu-
man biological diversity.
Finally, the assumption that cranial form is an im-
mutable “racial” character is very likely to be false, given
the diversity of studies of immigrants and the known
effects of food preparation and masticatory stress upon
cranial form. Cranial form, like other aspects of the body,
is a phenotype partly determined by heredity but also
strongly influenced by the conditions of life.
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... COLIPR 1.5.2 and 3D-ID 1.0) in a sample of 174 documented human crania of Brazilian origin belonging to different ancestral groups (i.e., European Brazilians, Afro-Brazilians, Japanese Brazilians, and individuals of admixed ancestry) and reported barely 50% correct classification accuracy. Validation studies clearly demonstrate that software platforms (either inter-landmark distance or landmark-based) have a limited ability to correctly and reliably identify subtle biological intra-and inter-population variation which has not been captured in the reference sample [24][25][26]. Elliot and Collard [27] also tested FORDISC in a sample of 200 individuals of known ancestry "with and without the test specimen's source population included in the program's reference sample, and with and without specifying the sex of the test specimen" and concluded that no more than 1% of the sample was classified with a high degree of confidence. The results of these validation studies suggest that the existing methods are insufficient to provide answers in many situations where the ancestry of a deceased individual is crucial for identification. ...
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Franz Boas's classic study, Changes in Bodily Form of Descendants of Immigrants, is a landmark in the history of anthropology. More than any single study, it undermined racial typology in physical anthropology and helped turn the tide against early-20thcentury scientific racism. In 1928, Boas responded to critics of the immigrant study by publishing the raw data set as Materials for the Study of Inheritance in Man. Here we present a reanalysis of that long-neglected data set. Using methods that were unavailable to Boas, we test his main conclusion that cranial form changed in response to environmental influences within a single generation of European immigrants to the United States. In general, we conclude that Boas got it right. However, we demonstrate that modern analytical methods provide stronger support for Boas's conclusion than did the tools at his disposal. We suggest future areas of research for this historically important data set. [Keywords: Franz Boas, cranial form, immigrant study, heredity, environment]
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Anthropology has been haunted by the misuse of the race concept since its beginnings. Although modern genetics has shown time and again that race is not a biological reality and cannot adequately describe human variation, many anthropologists are unable or unwilling to put aside racial typology as an explanatory tool. Here, we consider the case of forensic anthropology as an example often held up by uncritical anthropologists as evidence that the race concept "works." The logic appears to be that if forensic anthropologists are able to identify races in skeletal remains, races must be biological phenomena. We consider four general viewpoints on the subject of the validity and utility of race in forensic anthropology and offer an argument for the elimination of race as part of the "biological profile" identified by forensic anthropologists.
The study of recent human evolution, or the origin of modern humans, is currently dominated by two theories. The recent African origin hypothesis holds that there was a single origin of modern humans in Africa about 100,000 years ago, after which these humans dispersed throughout the rest of the world, mixing little or not at all with nonmodern populations. The multiregional evolution hypothesis holds that there was no single origin of modern humans but, instead, that the mutations and other traits that led to modern humans were spread in concert throughout the old world by gene flow, leading to genetic continuity among old world populations during the past million years. Although both of these theories are based on observations stemming from the fossil record, much discussion and controversy during the past six years has focused on the application and interpretation of studies of DNA variation, particularly mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). The past year, especially, has brought new data, interpretations, and controversies. Indeed, I initially resisted writing this review, on the grounds that new information would be likely to render it obsolete by the time it was published. However, now that the dust is starting to settle, it seems timely to review various investigations and interpretations and where they are likely to lead. While the focus of this review is the mtDNA story, brief mention is made of studies of nuclear DNA variation (both autosomal and Y-chromosome DNA) and the implications of the genetic data with regard to the fossil record and our understanding of recent human evolution.
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An analysis of First Dynasty crania from Abydos was undertaken using multiple discriminant functions. The results demonstrate greater affinity with Upper Nile Valley patterns, but also suggest change from earlier craniometric trends. Gene flow and movement of northern officials to the important southern city may explain the findings.
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The biological affinities of the ancient Egyptians were tested against their neighbors and selected prehistoric groups as well as against samples representing the major geographic population clusters of the world. Two dozen craniofacial measurements were taken on each individual used. The raw measurements were converted into C scores and used to produce Euclidean distance dendrograms. The measurements were principally of adaptively trivial traits that display patterns of regional similarities based solely on genetic relationships. The Predynastic of Upper Egypt and the Late Dynastic of Lower Egypt are more closely related to each other than to any other population. As a whole, they show ties with the European Neolithic, North Africa, modern Europe, and, more remotely, India, but not at all with sub-Saharan Africa, eastern Asia, Oceania, or the New World. Adjacent people in the Nile valley show similarities in trivial traits in an unbroken series from the delta in the north southward through Nubia and all the way to Somalia at the equator. At the same time, the gradient in skin color and body proportions suggests long-term adaptive response to selective forces appropriate to the latitude where they occur. An assessment of “race” is as useless as it is impossible. Neither clines nor clusters alone suffice to deal with the biological nature of a widely distributed population. Both must be used. We conclude that the Egyptians have been in place since back in the Pleistocene and have been largely unaffected by either invasions or migrations. As others have noted, Egyptians are Egyptians, and they were so in the past as well. © 1993 Wiley-Liss, Inc.