Individual Submission Summary

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Old Wine in New Bottles? Forensic Anthropology and Metric Ancestry Estimation

Sat, September 1, 2:00 to 3:30pm, ICC, E3.5


In several countries, when an unidentified, strongly decomposed body is found, a forensic anthropologist will work the case. Part of his or her job is to establish a biological profile of the deceased, which usually includes sex, age, stature, and ancestry. For the latter, many practitioners use statistical computer software such as CRANID or FORDISC which support the estimation of ancestry based on cranial measurements and a comparison with their internal databases.
By interviewing forensic anthropologists in several countries, and simultaneously gathering quantitative data with a tri-lingual online survey, I hope to shed light on how practitioners think about the application of these programmes and how they interpret the results. I am interested in what happens when these technologies leave the original context for which they were developed, and are employed in new national, social, and political circumstances, which, for example, are used to work with very different population categories.
Secondly, I am investigating the compilation of the databases used for comparison, using both published and archived sources. What ideas about capturing human variation are they based on, and how did individual crania get assigned to categories? Here, I intent to show how most uncertainties of the sampling process become ‘black-boxed’ in the later database, creating a sense of certainty and objectivity in the actual user of the software.
With my research, I hope to make a contribution to current STS debates regarding topics such as knowledge construction and societal interaction, locality and knowledge transfer, and knowledge and uncertainty.