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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
, Atlanta, GA
( (Williams)/Department of
Social Science, Atlanta Metropolitan College,
Metropolitan Parkway, Atlanta, GA
Department of Anthropology, Emory University,
Atlanta, GA
(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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, April
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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All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
342 F current anthropology
(Ousley and Jantz 1996).
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
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-
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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F 343
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)
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
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)
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
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
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)
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
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
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)
0.712 0.002
37 Male Ainu (Japan) 0.348 0.152
38 Female Easter Island
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 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-
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
’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
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-
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.
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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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. ...
... In addition, court requirements mandate the reporting of error rates for any method employed in forensic casework. This framework makes current ancestry estimation methods, traditional and computer-based, problematic, especially taking into account the low accuracy rates reported by numerous validation studies [24][25][26][27]. The main source of bias is the potential lack of the target specimen's source population in the reference sample [24][25][26]. ...
... This framework makes current ancestry estimation methods, traditional and computer-based, problematic, especially taking into account the low accuracy rates reported by numerous validation studies [24][25][26][27]. The main source of bias is the potential lack of the target specimen's source population in the reference sample [24][25][26]. In controlled conditions, such as in identification of individuals of known nationality from a mass accident or casualties from war zone involving known ethnic groups, this problem is minimised. ...
Full-text available
The estimation of ancestry is an essential benchmark for positive identification of heavily decomposed bodies that are recovered in a variety of death and crime scenes. This is especially true when reconstructing the biological profile of the deceased as most methods for sex, age and stature estimation are population-specific. Ancestry estimation methods vary from traditional morphological assessment of cranial features and biometric quantification to computer-aided shape analysis and classification with specialised software. The current paper aims to explore population differences between three neighbouring countries (Greece, Cyprus and Turkey) that have been in constant interaction through conflicts and population movements from the ancient past to the present day, through cranial measurements. The sample consists of 160 dry crania of Greek origin, 137 dry crania of Greek-Cypriot of origin Cyprus and 380 CT scans from Turks individuals. Twelve measurements were taken in both dry and virtual skulls. Data were submitted to principal component analysis and discriminant function analysis. Intra- and inter-observer error as well as the measurement error between virtual and physical measurements were quantified using TEM, rTEM and R. Measurement error was very low in all cases. Classification accuracy for cross-validated data ranged from 74.1 to 97.9%. The highest accuracy was obtained for the Turks sample both in males and females. The results are in accordance with genetic data on the three populations. These results create great confidence in the application of the produced functions in forensic cases requiring ancestry estimation in Cyprus, specifically to unidentified individuals from the 1974 conflict. In addition, these standards can be applied in other forensic situations where ethnicity is an issue but the geographic area of origin is limited to the area encompassing Turkey, Cyprus and Greece.
... In a rare empirical test for human biological races, testing the false dichotomy and defective data did not stop the following authors from reaching grandiose and incorrect conclusions. Williams et al. (2005) used 10 measurements and discriminant function analyses to classify a sample of 42 Nubians into 27 groups from around the world in the Howells craniometric database and concluded, "The possibility that skeletal material could be sorted by geographic origin, at any other level than geographic extremes, is quite small" (Williams et al., 2005:345). Their null hypothesis was that 100% of their Nubians would be classified into the closest geographical group, Howells' Egyptians. ...
... Naturally, all data used in an analysis must be accurate. If the Williams et al. (2005) study proved anything, it is that one should study measurement definitions before collecting and analyzing metric data. An independent classification using measurements from other Nubians showed regional affinities, and an examination of the data that Williams et al. (2005) used in their analysis, which they refused to share, revealed serious measurement errors. ...
... If the Williams et al. (2005) study proved anything, it is that one should study measurement definitions before collecting and analyzing metric data. An independent classification using measurements from other Nubians showed regional affinities, and an examination of the data that Williams et al. (2005) used in their analysis, which they refused to share, revealed serious measurement errors. Even with considerable measurement errors, the authors did not acknowledge or recognize that their Nubians actually classified into the Howells Egyptian group more than into any other group. ...
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In this chapter we concentrate on how anthropologists have approached the study of human variation. We find that anthropologists have frequently depended on nebulous or nonscientific theories and questionable methods to justify what seem to be foregone conclusions, more often reflecting the contemporary views of society or strong personal opinions, rather than using empirical data and the scientific method. As a result, earlier racist pseudoscience gave way to modern antiracist pseudoscience that has prevented further discussion. Until recently, American forensic anthropologists used race to help identify discovered skeletal remains and were simply doing their work with little thought to race theory. Few anthropologists in any discipline examined humans and human races scientifically, which should involve formulating and testing theories and hypotheses, but instead relied on confirmation bias in publications intended for likeminded audiences. More recently, however, the accumulation of a mountain of morphological and molecular evidence shows an association between traditional human races and patterns of human variation, reflecting the interplay of historical, cultural, and evolutionary factors.
... Cranial shape variability has a genetic basis, reflecting evolution together with environmental factors acting on the phenotype during development. 34 It is recognized that cranial size in particular is sexually dimorphic, with males in any population on average being larger and more muscular than females. [35][36][37][38] It is also recognized that head shape and size are not only variable within populations but also follow clinal and geographic variation among populations so that average head shape and size may be different between geographically distant populations. ...
... [35][36][37][38] It is also recognized that head shape and size are not only variable within populations but also follow clinal and geographic variation among populations so that average head shape and size may be different between geographically distant populations. 34,[39][40][41][42][43][44] In the context of ventriculostomy, this variability could mean that the three-dimensional relationships of the anatomic landmarks and the ventricles differ between males and females within populations but also in populations other than those of European ancestry, and that the anatomic relationships differ from those originally used to determine the optimal location for the burr hole (known as the Kocher point), and the trajectory of the catheter insertion. These gender and population differences may contribute to the misplacement of the catheter tip, both through inappropriate location of the burr hole and inaccurate trajectory for insertion for the catheter. ...
Background: Ventriculostomy using the freehand pass method is subject to complications arising from misplacement of the catheter tip. This method may require multiple passes for successful catheterization. Methods of determining the burr-hole location (known as the Kocher point) were derived historically from European patients and may not be appropriate for other populations with different cranial shapes. This study examines the possibility that anatomic variation in interpopulation variation together with sexual dimorphism in cranial size and shape may contribute to this problem. Methods: Sagittal and parasagittal measurements of the frontal bone were taken of 300 Thai (150 female, 150 male) crania and 300 American white (150 female, 150 male) crania. These measurements were compared to determine sexual dimorphism and interpopulation variation in size and shape. Results: The measurements were statistically significantly larger in males than in females and on the right side than the left in both sexes in both Thai and American white samples. The frontal bone is significantly longer at the sagittal plane in Europeans of both sexes than in Thai, but in the parasagittal plane, there is no difference. This finding indicates a difference in frontal bone shape between the 2 populations and between males and females. Conclusions: The dimensions of the frontal bone vary between males and females and can vary among populations. The optimal location for the burr hole in freehand pass ventriculostomy may depend on both the gender and the ancestry of the patient.
... The most popular analytical tool for ancestry estimation using craniometric variables is Fordisc (Jantz & Ousley, 2005 on craniometric variables, comparing measurements between a user-entered unknown's data and up to 13 ancestry/sex specific reference groups (Jantz & Ousley, 2005). Multiple studies test the efficacy of FD3, some erroneously (Campbell & Armelagos, 2007;Elliott & Collard, 2009;Williams, Belcher, & Armelagos, 2005) and others with an eye to stressing the importance of understanding the population structure in relation to reference groups when interpreting the results (Dudzik & Jantz, 2016;Hughes, Dudzik, Algee-Hewitt, Jones, & Anderson, 2019;Spradley, 2016b). ...
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Forensic anthropologists assist law enforcement agencies and medical examiner's offices with investigations involving human remains, providing insight into trauma analysis, the establishment of postmortem interval, and the estimation of biological profile data. Ancestry is considered one of the more difficult aspects of the biological profile, due in large part to the complicated relationship between skeletal morphology and social constructs. The methods used to estimate ancestry rely on the correlation between skeletal morphology, geographic origin, and an individual's social race. While there is a well documented contemptible history associated with the development of ancestry estimation methods in biological anthropology, many of the more traditional, now antiquated, methods are still used in some laboratories. The push to improve the framework within which ancestry data are analyzed requires validation and reassessment for each method in addition to the development of novel approaches utilizing modern technological advances. An array of software programs designed to aid in ancestry estimation is available. These advances do not signal the end of ancestry-related research. Indeed, several areas seemingly stagnated by tradition and time require further study through more than simply review and rarefaction. The future of ancestry estimation research centers on: (a) abandoning the trait list approach, (b) rejecting the three-group model, (c) establishing larger and more representative reference data, (d) assessing the utility of mixed method models, and (e) developing new statistical approaches and updating current software tools.
... His intention is similar to Wright's (1978: 439) statement that "it does not require a trained anthropologist to classify an array of Englishmen, West Africans, and Chinese with 100% accuracy by features, skin color, and type of hair in spite of so much variability within each of these groups that every individual can easily be distinguished from every other." Some scholars have criticized the validity of ancestry estimation methods, arguing human variation is too limited and that the continued practice of race estimation leads to misidentifications and the perpetuation of an erroneous concept (Armelagos & Good- man, 1998;Goodman, 1997;Goodman & Armelagos, 1996;Williams, Blecher, & Armelagos, 2005). Lewontin's (1972) study of classic genetic markers is the most widely cited evidence that differences between human groups are too small to allow accurate classification, and that most variation is found within populations rather than between. ...
Full-text available
Objectives: Probit has not been applied to ancestry estimation in forensic anthropology. The goals of this study were to: (1) evaluate the performance of probit analysis as a classification tool for ancestry estimation using ordinal data and (2) expand our current understanding of human cranial variation for an understudied population. Methods: Multivariate probit models were used to classify the ancestral affiliation of Filipino crania using morphoscopic traits. Ancestral reference populations represented Africa, Asia, and Europe in a three-group model, with the addition of Hispanics in a four-group model. Posterior probabilities across these groups were interpreted as admixture proportions of an individual. Model performance was also evaluated for individuals with missing data. Results: The overall correct classification rates for the three-group and four-group models were 72.1% and 68.6%, respectively. Filipinos classified as Asian 52.9% of the time using three ancestral reference groups and 48.6% using four groups. A large portion of Filipinos also classified as African. There were no significant differences in classification trends or accuracy rates between complete crania and crania with at least one missing variable. Conclusions: Multivariate probit models using morphoscopic traits perform well when populations are represented in both training and test samples. Probit can also accommodate individuals with missing data. Classifying Filipinos showed only moderate success. Filipinos are more phenotypically similar to Africans than the other Asian samples used here, but still affiliate most closely as Asian. Ancestry methods would benefit from including Filipinos as a reference sample given the additional variation they provide to the continental category of Asian.
... Hence, the accuracy of ancestry estimation is hampered. It is important to bear in mind that cranial traits and measurements are always phenotypic features [26], partially determined by hereditability and influenced by the environment. Although there are polymorphisms that are quite distinctive of geographic regions, there isn't a single trait that can be found only in a single population. ...
Full-text available
Ancestry assessment represents a major component of forensic anthropological analysis of recovered human remains. Interpretations of ancestry, together with other aspects of the biological profile, can help narrow the search of missing persons and contribute to eventual positive identification. Such information can prove useful to authorities involved in the identification and investigative process since many lists of missing persons have a reference to this parameter. Recent research has strengthened available methodologies involving metric, non-metric morphological as well as chemical and genetic approaches. This review addresses the new anthropological techniques that are now available, as well as the complex historical context related to ancestry evaluation.
... There is a great deal of evidence that "population-specific" is a euphemism for race-specific and reflects neo-colonial approach to human variation that is situated in a history that is highly racial (10). There is a great deal of literature that illustrates the highly problematic nature of this approach where dominant groups directly or indirectly define the parameters of populations based on preconceived notions of human variation (11)(12)(13)(14)(15). More specific to the context in question, we have published a body of literature demonstrating that, whether it is referred to as "population-specific" or "race-specific," this typological approach is highly problematic in forensic anthropology. ...
... There are also various researchers who discuss the numerous factors that confound the heritability of nonmetric traits (Williams, Belcher & Armelagos, 2005). Some factors that have been found to have a noticeable effect on the expression of these traits are geography, habitat, sexual dimorphism (differences in physical appearance between individuals of different sexes in the same species), age, nutrition, disease, size, and intertrait correlations ( Berry, 1975;Cheverud, Buikstra & Twichell, 1979). ...
Full-text available
Nonmetric traits are frequently analyzed in the field of anthropology to measure genetic relatedness, or biodistance, within or between populations. These studies are performed under the assumption that nonmetric traits are genetically inherited. However, much of the research on nonmetric traits has revealed that numerous factors can confound heritability. Skull size is one of the factors that are shown in some samples to have an effect on the expression of nonmetric traits. There is evidence that nonmetric trait expression is population specific; therefore, the current study was performed to determine if size-trait correlations would occur within a single population. Nonmetric traits in a sample of 20 skulls (South Eastern Asian origin) are analyzed to determine if there are correlations between skull size and expression of nonmetric traits. Intertrait correlations are also examined. This type of study is important because if the expression of certain nonmetric traits is related to factors outside of genetics, then those traits would not be useful in biodistance studies. The results of this study indicate that there are no correlations between overall skull size and nonmetric traits. However, correlations were found between individual measurements and nonmetric traits, as well as between traits.
A skeleton was discovered during the excavation of fortifications at Hisn al-Bab in southern Egypt. It was not found in a grave but was lying on its back in an outspread position at the foot of the collapsed northern wall of the fort, covered by wall debris. The individual was probably male and about 25 to 30 years old. The osteological evidence strongly suggests that the man met his death through interpersonal violence. A deep kerf was identified on the medial shaft of his left femur, caused perimortem by a large bladed weapon. In addition, fractures of the facial bones, the skull base, and the right ribs occurred around the time of his death. These traumas, as well as the archaeological evidence of a contemporary destruction horizon of the fort, suggest some sort of conflict. The taphonomic changes to the bones indicate that the body was partly covered by wall debris soon after death, while some parts remained exposed. Distinct marks on the facial bones may suggest the presence of larger, scavenging birds, such as vultures. The analysis and interpretation of the traumas, and the taphonomic changes in relation to the archaeological context, give an insight into the last moments of one phase of occupation at Hisn al-Bab. They illustrate an ancient case of violent death on the border between Egypt and Nubia.
Full-text available
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]
The results of analysis of craniometric variation in Meroitic, X-group and Christian remains from Wadi Halfa Sudan utilising discriminant function and principal components techniques revealed a general pattern of morphological continuity between the three cultural horizons. These Nubian remains represent a broadly homogeneous population undergoing an evolutionary trend towards facial reduction associated with increasing height and breadth in the cranial vault. This pattern of morphological continuity and change is consistent with the archaeological evidence for in situ cultural evolution.
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.
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.
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.