Dental Morphological Variation in Asian and Asian-Derived Populations

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Rebecca L. George
Marin A. Pilloud


The use of dental morphology to estimate ancestry has become more prevalent within forensic anthropology, and several new methods have been published (e.g., Edgar 2005, 2013; Irish 2015; Scott et al. 2018). While these methods represent great advances, they are lacking in modern Asian reference samples. As such, they may be unable to adequately differentiate Asian individuals from those who express similar dental morphology (i.e., Hispanics and Native Americans). This study explores dental morphological population variation of various skeletal samples in an effort to suggest areas of improvement for methods of ancestry estimation.

Biological distance analyses were conducted on dental morphological data from a Mexican skeletal collection housed at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City (n = 88), Hispanic dental casts housed at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque (n = 71), a Japanese skeletal sample at Chiba University in Chiba, Japan (n = 96), and a comparative global data set collected by T. Hanihara. Clear patterns emerge that align with the Sinodont/Sundadont dental variation, where Native American samples cluster with East Asian samples (Sinodont) and Southeast Asian groups cluster with Melanesia, Papua New Guinea, and Australia (Sundadont). The two Hispanic samples are found to be distinct from these Asian samples and cluster with Macro-European and West African samples. These results highlight the complexity of Asian and Asian-derived populations and underscore the need for appropriate references samples in method creation.

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