Lab 12-Forensics and Variation.docx - ANT 3514 Introduction...

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ANT 3514 – Introduction to Biological Anthropology Lab 12: Forensic Anthropology and Modern Human Variation Learning Objectives: Estimate the sex, stature, and age of death of an individual based on skeletal remains. Identify and interpret the skeletal manifestation of some pathologies. Critically evaluate the notion that there are different biological human races. Purpose: To become familiar with the methods employed by forensic anthropologists to create biological profiles of skeletal remains. Forensic anthropologists apply their knowledge of biological anthropology to modern medicolegal contexts. Working in various settings (e.g . , for Medical Examiners and coroners, war crimes investigations, or the U.S. military), forensic anthropologists help to identify the dead by generating biological profiles of deceased individuals – estimations of their age, sex, ancestry, stature, and identifying characteristics – based on traits visible and/or measurable in the recovered skeletal remains. Forensic anthropologists often ask questions and use tools that are similar to those of other biological anthologists such as paleoanthropologists and bioarchaeologists, so many of the things you will do in this lab will seem familiar. Yet some tasks that might have been relatively easy in previous labs, such as telling males from females in sexually dimorphic apes, becomes more difficult when we study anatomically modern humans. Homo sapiens is a very young species with little genetic variation and a low degree of sexual dimorphism. As humans, we are adept at perceiving even small differences in appearance that can be used to distinguish individuals. Features that would be considered minor variation within many other species play a significant role in how we identify other people in our day-to-day lives, and may often carry sociocultural meanings that are disconnected from the biological roles of these traits. In this week’s lab we will see how difficult it can actually be to detect variation among anatomically modern humans once some of the more superficial characteristics such as skin color are removed. Since all modern humans spread across the globe are members of the same species ( H. sapiens ), most human variation is continuous, with certain physical traits like skin color and nose morphology following geographic gradients called clines . Some combinations of discrete skeletal traits (that can be described as appearing either one way or another) are concordant, meaning they frequently appear together in the same individual. Forensic anthropologists are often concerned with identifying such traits in order to assess the ancestral population with which human remains might be associated. However, most of the traits contributing to human variation are non-concordant, meaning they are not tied to each other and can be inherited independently (think back to Mendel’s Law of Independent Assortment). For instance, while dark hair and dark eyes are often seen in the same individual, not everyone who has dark hair necessarily has dark eyes.

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