One of the parameters forensic anthropologists have traditionally estimated is ancestry, which is used in the United States as a proxy for social race. Its use is controversial because the biological race concept was debunked by scientists decades ago. However, many forensic anthropologists contend, in part, that because social race categories used by law enforcement can be predicted by cranial variation, ancestry remains a necessary parameter for estimation. Here, we use content analysis of the Journal of Forensic Sciences
for the period 2009–2019 to demonstrate the use of various nomenclature and resultant confusion in ancestry estimation studies, and as a mechanism to discuss how forensic anthropologists have eschewed a human variation approach to studying human morphological differences in favor of a simplistic and debunked typological one. Further, we employ modern geometric morphometric and spatial analysis methods on craniofacial coordinate anatomical landmarks from several Latin American samples to test the validity of applying the antiquated tri-continental approach to ancestry (i.e., African, Asian, European). Our results indicate groups are not patterned by the ancestry trifecta. These findings illustrate the benefit and necessity of embracing studies that employ population structure models to better understand human variation and the historical factors that have influenced it.
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