What Are We Really Estimating in Forensic Anthropological Practice, Population Affinity or Ancestry?

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Kate Spradley
Richard L. Jantz


While American forensic anthropologists often state that they estimate ancestry, is that what they are really estimating? Although typological terminology, the oids, was replaced with continental terminology, the change was linguistic rather than substantive. The American population is comprised largely of immigrants. Genetic data suggests a high degree of admixture within American population groups. Further, data from documented skeletal collections suggest that Americans have undergone secular changes. Our paper addresses the uniqueness of the American population as compared to ancestral continental and geographic origin groups to address what it is that forensic anthropologists are really estimating, ancestry or something else? We conclude, based on uniqueness of American population groups, that what forensic anthropologists are estimating is best described as affinity, a term that indicates similarity and is not exclusively attached to definitions of race and ethnicity.

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