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Kelly Kamnikar Dissertation Defense
May 4 @ 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Cranial metric and nonmetric variation in Southeast Mexico and Guatemala: Implications for population affinity 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
population affinity). Population affinity, or the likelihood of group relatedness to a defined
population of a decedent, can be estimated using measurements and observations from the
cranial and postcranial skeleton. These estimations may be less accurate among populations
which have been 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 represented by these groups. Consequently, forensic anthropologists may
be unintentionally disregarding genetic diversity, population structure, and population history
and their impact on the formation and morphology of these groups. The purpose of this
dissertation is to investigate variation in craniofacial morphology and develop population
affinity models for Latin American groups using cranial metric and nonmetric data. The intent
is to move beyond a single classification level (i.e., Hispanic) to more refined levels based on
geographic origins (e.g., Guatemala, Southeast Mexico).
The broad category of Hispanic was adopted by forensic anthropologists in large part
because it is still used in medicolegal death investigations in the U.S. to describe individuals
with familial origins in Latin America. Since the term Hispanic does not narrow down the
region of origin for unidentified human remains, it is uninformative for identification and
repatriation purposes, particularly regarding forensic investigations along the southern U.S.
border. In this context, population affinity estimation benefits from refinement of a broad
category to a more focused, population-level group. Craniometric and cranial
macromorphoscopic (MMS) data are collected from samples in Guatemala City, Guatemala
and Mérida, Mexico—with strong support from the forensic anthropologists in these
countries—to capture aspects of skeletal variation associated with these regions. Biological
distance and population affinity models are assessed and comparative data from other Latin
American and U.S. populations are used to assess how well these model skeletal variation.
Biological distance analysis demonstrates that Latin American populations, including the
Meridian and Guatemala sample are distinct. Classification models obtain varying accuracy
rates; the combined craniometric and cranial MMS model had the highest classification
accuracy (70.7%). This study provides further support for the refinement of this broad category
and is important for future investigations involved in identification efforts along the U.S.-
Date: Wednesday, May 4, 2022
Time: 1:00 p.m. EST
Please contact Kelly Kamnikar at Kamnikar@msu.edu for the Zoom information.