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The Combination of Cranial Morphoscopic and Dental Morphological Methods to Improve the Forensic Estimation of Ancestry

NCJ Number
Date Published
May 2017
268 pages

This dissertation provides background information and a discussion of the history of physical anthropology and race through the modern concept of race, as well as the estimation of ancestry in the forensic science context; a description of research project materials and methods, including ancestry groups, sampled skeletal collections, cranial morphoscopic traits, dental traits, data collection and processing, statistical analyses, classificatory models, and statistical comparisons of accuracy; and an analysis of research results.


The author of this dissertation addresses the question of whether ancestry estimation methods in forensic anthropology can be improved through increased standardization, the inclusion of dental variables, and the infusion of more robust statistical methods. In order to answer that question, the author tested several interrelated hypotheses: morphoscopic traits of the cranium will separate groups by ancestry in the forensic context; variation in dental crown morphology will separate groups by ancestry in the forensic context; and the combination of cranial morphoscopic and dental traits will improve the accuracy of ancestry estimates. The author explored four “novel” traits and concluded that of the four, only diastemata did not demonstrate any utility in estimating ancestry; dental crowding as an indicator of ancestry was moderately successful; and palate shape and molar crenulations represented novel scales of recordation for traits already associated with ancestry. Two conclusions from the analysis of the “novel” traits are: under-used sources of data, like the dentition, can provide forensic anthropologists with better ways to estimate ancestry; and many of the traits found on the trait lists are indicative of ancestry and can be successfully used in its estimation. The author suggests that the current research can be improved through the analysis of a more representative sample of the four main ancestry designations used by forensic anthropologists, and that improving techniques for DNA extraction and analysis will help improve ancestry estimation accuracy and reliability.

Date Published: May 1, 2017