All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Stephen Merritt

Advisory Committee Members

Lauren Downs

Chris Kyle

Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name by School

Master of Arts (MA) College of Arts and Sciences


A goal of forensic anthropology is to aid in identifying unidentified human remains, often by creating a biological profile. An important piece of this profile is an ancestry estimate, and methodological accuracy is taken seriously. Traditional typological nonmetric methods of ancestry are heavily critiqued for being subjective and lacking scientific rigor in analysis. In addition, these methods are noted for conflating morphological traits with specific ancestral categories, ignoring the reality of continuous human variation. To combat this, scholars have proposed morphoscopic nonmetric methods as an alternative because they retain the accessibility popularized by typological methods but add a layer of scientific validity through a statistical analysis framework for determining ancestry. This study tests the hypothesis that morphoscopic methods are superior by analyzing the accuracy of two typological and two morphoscopic methods as reported in forensic case entries in the Forensic Anthropology Database for Assessing Methods Accuracy (FADAMA) (n=241). Data analysis looked at the four methods individually and the two types of methods collectively. Congruent with the literature, morphoscopic methods outperformed typological methods in methodological accuracy for both categories of analysis. Additionally, morphoscopic methods outperformed their expected research based accuracy rate, while typological methods underperformed their expected accuracy rate. The results of this study speak to the superiority of objective nonmetric methods of ancestry estimation that are rooted in statistical analysis of human variation. More broadly, this study lends itself to the discussion of ancestry estimation and its relationship with the concept of race. Some scholars postulate that ancestry estimation enforces the idea of biological race and invokes the racist past history of the discipline. However, the results of this study do not support the validity of biological race. Unlike typological methods, morphoscopic methods recognize that all morphological traits are present in all ancestral categories at different frequencies. Frequency distributions of traits correspond to social race categories used in the United States due to the lack of gene flow between “racial” groups historically, creating a concordance between social race and skeletal morphology. As a result, ancestry estimation remains a valuable part of American forensic anthropology.



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