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Kelly Kamnikar Dissertation Proposal Defense

January 31 @ 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Cranial metric and nonmetric variation in Southeast Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador: Implications for forensic ancestry assessment in the United States

The scientific identification of unknown human skeletal remains in forensic contexts relies heavily on the estimation of demographic parameters (i.e., sex, age, stature, and ancestry). A decedent’s ancestry, or geographic origin, can be estimated using measurements and trait observations recorded from the cranial and postcranial skeleton. These ancestry estimations are less accurate among populations pooled together based on convention. Latin American individuals—with geographic origins widely distributed throughout Central and South America—are broadly pooled together under the blanket term Hispanic with little regard for the immense cultural and biological diversity. Consequently, forensic anthropologists may be unintentionally disregarding the impact of genetic diversity, population structure, and population history on these groups. The purpose of this dissertation is to develop ancestry estimation models for Latin American groups using cranial metric and nonmetric data with the intent to move beyond a single classification level (i.e., Hispanic) to more refined levels of ancestry based on geographic origins (e.g., Guatemala, El Salvador, Southeast Mexico).

The broad category of Hispanic was adopted in forensic anthropology, because it is still used by law enforcement and on legal identification forms in the U.S., to describe all people with familial origins in Latin America. This term is uninformative for identification and repatriation purposes, particularly in regards to forensic investigations at the southern U.S. border, because the term Hispanic does not narrow down region of origin. In this context, forensic ancestry estimation can benefit from refinement of this broad category to more focused, population-level groups. Craniometric and macromorphoscopic (MMS) data will be collected from samples in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico, with strong support from the forensic anthropologists in these countries, in an attempt to capture variation associated with geographic origin. The impact of this study will be applicable to national and international forensic contexts with the hope of improving identification efforts at the U.S.-Mexico border and in U.S. forensic casework.


January 31
1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Event Category:


McDonel Hall, Room C103