A Reassessment of Assessing Race “Ancestry” Estimation and Its Implications for Forensic Anthropology and Beyond

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Heather Edgar
Marin Pilloud


The articles in this special issue grew from a symposium at the 2020 American Academy of Forensic Sciences Annual Scientific meeting, with the same title as this introduction. The symposium focused on current research and practice of ancestry estimation in forensic anthropology. The symposium concluded with a discussion of the value (or lack thereof) of ancestry estimation as a standard component of the forensic anthropological biological profile. The articles constituting this volume address these questions: What is the current state of race/ancestry estimation in practice? What terminology should we use to describe patterned variation among human populations? How do we sample contemporary populations, and how long are studies built on such samples applicable? What role does genomic data play? Should race/ancestry remain a core component of the biological profile? Further, the issue includes an examination of ancestry estimation in teaching and community outreach. While fine points are still up for debate among these authors, there is general agreement that any future of ancestry estimation must be based in cultural context and evolutionary theory, be sensitive to the importance of terminology employed, and be iteratively reflexive about the relative costs and benefits of this work.

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