Sauer92_forensic_race_ - Sm Sri Med Vol 34 No 2 pp 107-111...

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Sm. Sri. Med. Vol. 34, No. 2, pp. 107-111, 1992 0277-9536192 S5.00 + 0.00 Printed in Great Britain Pergamon Press plc FORENSIC ANTHROPOLOGY AND THE CONCEPT OF RACE: IF RACES DON’T EXIST, WHY ARE FORENSIC ANTHROPOLOGISTS SO GOOD AT IDENTIFYING THEM? NORMAN J. SAUER Department of Anthropology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, U.S.A. Abstract-Most anthropologists have abandoned the concept of race as a research tool and as a valid representation of human biological diversity. Yet, race identification continues to be one of the central foci of forensic anthropological casework and research. It is maintained in this paper that the successful assignment of race to a skeletal specimen is not a vindication of the race concept, but rather a prediction that an individual, while alive was assigned to a particular socially constructed ‘racial’ category. A specimen may display features that point to African ancestry. In this country that person is likely to have been labeled Black regardless of whether or not such a race actually exists in nature. Key words-forensic anthropology, race, race identification, human variation Several years ago, I was approached by the Michigan State Police for assistance with the identification of a set of decomposed human remains. The specimen, obviously human, was discovered in a wooded area by hunters, reported to police and transported to a morgue at a local hospital. After a standard anthro- pological evaluation of the material I concluded that the remains represented a Black female, who was 18-23 years old at death and between 5’2” and 5’6”. The condition of the remains suggested that depo- sition occurred between 6 weeks and 6 months before discovery. That information was reported to the Investigative Resources Division of the State Police who matched it against Missing person records. In a few weeks time the remains were positively identified as representing a Black female, who was 5’3” tall and 19 years of age when she disappeared about 3 months earlier. For many anthropologists there currently exists a dilemma. While most have rejected the traditional Western notion of race, as bounded, identifiable biological groups and have renounced its use as harmful, the race concept as it is understood by the public continues to be one of the central foci of forensic anthropological research and application. Does the fact that forensic anthropolo- gists are able to correctly guess the race of a subject from skeletal remains in any way validate the concept? THE NON-EXISTENCE OF RACES In the 1960s C. Loting Brace and Frank Living- stone presented arguments for the nonexistence of human races [l, 21. Extending a debate that began a decade earlier in zoology [I, 31, they argued that the discordance of traits made defining races on the basis of more than one or two characters impossible. Since no human biologist would support such limited criteria for defining a race, the race concept was deemed untenable for human populations.
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Sauer92_forensic_race_ - Sm Sri Med Vol 34 No 2 pp 107-111...

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