Estimation and evidence in forensic anthropology: Sex and race

Lyle W. Konigsberg, Bridget F.B. Algee-Hewitt, Dawnie Wolfe Steadman

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Forensic anthropology typically uses osteological and/or dental data either to estimate characteristics of unidentified individuals or to serve as evidence in cases where there is a putative identification. In the estimation context, the problem is to describe aspects of an individual that may lead to their eventual identification, whereas in the evidentiary context, the problem is to provide the relative support for the identification. In either context, individual characteristics such as sex and race may be useful. Using a previously published forensic case (Steadman et al. (2006) Am J Phys Anthropol 131:15-26) and a large (N = 3,167) reference sample, we show that the sex of the individual can be reliably estimated using a small set of 11 cranio- metric variables. The likelihood ratio from sex (assuming a 1:1 sex ratio for the ''population at large'') is, however, relatively uninformative in ''making'' the identification. Similarly, the known ''race'' of the individual is relatively uninformative in ''making'' the iden tification, because the individual was recovered from an area where the 2000 US census provides a very homogenous picture of (self-identified) race. Of interest in this analysis is the fact that the individual, who was recovered from Eastern Iowa, classifies very clearly with [Howells 1973. Cranial Variation in Man: A Study by Multivariate Analysis of Patterns of Difference Among Recent Human Populations. Cambridge, MA: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology; 1989. Skull Shape and the Map: Craniometric Analyses in the Dispersion of Modern Homo.Cambridge,MA: Harvard University Press]. Easter Islander sample in an analysis with uninformative priors. When the Iowa 2000 Census data on self-reported race are used for informative priors, the individual is clearly identified as ''American White.'' This analysis shows the extreme importance of an informative prior in any forensic application.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)77-90
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican journal of physical anthropology
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2009


  • Craniometrics
  • Discriminant function
  • Likelihood ratio
  • Model-based clustering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology


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