Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Lyle W. Konigsberg

Committee Members

Richard L. Jantz, Andrew Kramer, Karla J. Matteson


Studies in human cranial variation are extensive and widely discussed. While skeletal biologists continue to focus on questions of biological distance and population history, group-specific knowledge is being increasingly used for human identification in medico-legal contexts. The importance of this research has been often overshadowed by both philosophic and methodological concerns. Many analyses have been constrained in their scope by the limited availability of representative samples and readily criticized for adopting statistical techniques that require user-guidance and a priori information. A multi-part project is presented here that implements model-based clustering as an alternative approach for population studies using craniometric traits. This project also introduces the use of forced-directed graphing and mixture-based supervised classification methods as statistically robust and practically useful techniques.

This project considers three well-documented craniometric sources, whose samples collectively permit large-scale analyses and tests of population structure at a variety of partitions and for different goals. The craniofacial measurements drawn from the world-wide data sets collected by Howells and Hanihara permit rigorous tests for group differences and cryptic population structure. The inclusion of modern American samples from the Forensic Anthropology Data Bank allows for investigations into the importance of biosocial race and biogeographic ancestry in forensic anthropology. Demographic information from the United States Census Bureau is used to contextualize these samples within the range of the racial diversity represented in the American population-at-large.

This project's findings support the presence of population structure, the utility of finite mixture methods to questions of biological classification, and the validity of supervised discrimination methods as reliable tools. They also attest to the importance of context for producing the most useful information on identity and affinity. These results suggest that a meaningful relationship between statistically inferred clusters and predefined groups does exist and that population-informative differences in cranial morphology can be detected with measured degrees of statistical certainty, even when true memberships are unknown. They imply, in turn, that the estimation of biogeographic ancestry and the identification of biosocial race in forensic anthropology can provide useful information for modern American casework that can be evidenced by scientific methods.

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