Ancestry Estimation in Forensic Anthropology: Osteological vs. Molecular Methods and Social Implications
Ancestry estimation in forensic anthropology has been one of the most complex determinations to make from the human skeleton. There is a long history in biological anthropology using different morphological characteristics from the skull and other areas of the skeleton but it remains a difficult estimation that always has some variability. Currently, more studies have been conducted in morphological and metric methods from the skull of ancestry estimation to better the accuracy of the determination. Since most forensic cases are not in the best condition, there also must be other estimation methods from other bones from the remains such as the cervical vertebrae and the femur. These methods have some degree of accuracy but are not as commonly used in forensic cases as the skull is. It seems that the best method for ancestry estimation is to use a combination of multiple methods, having multiple lines of evidence. With the advent of DNA, many researchers have started to study the use of DNA in ancestry estimation. Genetics can be used in ancestry estimation as certain populations have allele frequencies that can be quantified. Using ancestry informative markers (AIMS), DNA can be used to estimate the ancestry of an individual as well as the amount of admixture in the individual. Many different methods have been tested in genetic evaluation of ancestry and have been supported with good accuracy. However, DNA analysis is expensive and time consuming, putting more reliance on osteological methods. Social implications have had a tremendous impact on the fate of ancestry estimation in forensic anthropology. Anthropology has generally rejected the notion of races but it is still used in forensics due to how much it is inculcated into everyday society. Also, the overarching theme of admixture is becoming more prevalent in society. This causes the estimations in forensic anthropology to be extremely difficult. If more research into ancestry estimation does not continue, the determination will almost be impossible to be made.