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Sex and Ancestry Estimation Methods in Modern Filipino Crania

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
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Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2017, $47,451)

Anthropologists estimate the age, sex, ancestry, and stature (i.e., the biological profile) of unidentified human remains from observations of their bones, especially for crimes or missing persons.

Standard estimation methods are developed first through observations of identified individuals in skeletal reference collections that are then applied to unidentified individuals. However, these standards have relied heavily on outdated American reference collections that primarily include individuals of African and European descent. Considering the wide range of human variation and secular changes, these methods may not be reliably applied to all human groups, and may lead to false identifications and stalled investigations if misused.

This is pertinent to forensic practices in the US as the country’s racial and ethnic makeup is one of the most heterogeneous in the world. Asians remain a heavily understudied population, with Filipinos in particular receiving little to no attention. This is surprising as Filipinos are the third largest Asian demographic in the United States and continually represent a major source of new immigrants.

Forensic anthropological research on Filipinos has nonetheless been extremely marginal due in part to a lack of skeletal resources. The current study ameliorates this problematic research gap by: (1) refining methods of metric and nonmetric Asian sex and ancestry estimation by incorporating modern Filipino crania, and (2) bolstering collaborative research capacities through the creation of a novel and internationally accessible Filipino reference collection from skeletons in the Philippines.

In 2016, pilot research at Manila North Cemetery, Philippines resulted in the recovery of 75 Filipino skeletons from abandoned graves presently curated at the University of the Philippines. Part of this research will add more remains for a total collection sample of at least 200 adult individuals. Data from these skeletons will be used to refine estimation methods that can ultimately be applied in the US. Metric and nonmetric measurements will be scored from crania, statistically analyzed, and accuracies measured to identify which variables best discern between sexes and ancestral affinities.

A suite of analyses such as discriminant functions, cluster analyses, and machine learning techniques will be employed and can readily be used by forensic practitioners in real-world settings. Results from this research will comply with the 1993 Daubert ruling for more rigorous scientific testing of methods, aid in forensic and disaster victim identifications, and ensure more accurate administration of criminal justice in the United States, especially for an understudied yet increasingly important population.


Date Created: September 22, 2017