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Observer error and its impact on ancestry estimation using dental morphology

NCJ Number
International Journal of Legal Medicine Volume: 133 Dated: 2019 Pages: 949-962
Date Published
14 pages

This article presents research into the use and accuracy of dental morphology forensic anthropology.


Dental morphology is becoming increasingly visible in forensic anthropology as part of the estimation of ancestry. As methods are developed based on these data, it is important to understand the role of observer error in data collection and method application. In this study, 10 observers collected dental morphological data on 19 traits on the same set of nine plaques. Various measures of interrater reliability were calculated to assess observer error. Data were then input into one of three ancestry estimation methods based on dental morphology to understand the role of observer error in these methods. Results show low rater reliability for all dental morphological traits when all 10 observers are compared. Rater reliability increases when only experienced observers are compared and traits are dichotomized. Further, differences in trait scores by observers resulted in disparate estimations of ancestry in each of the methods. While observer error appears to be an issue in dental morphological methods of ancestry estimation, these problems can be addressed. An argument is made for advanced training in dental anthropology in laboratories and in graduate programs. Further, methods need to test for and employ traits with high rater agreement. (Published Abstract Provided)

Date Published: January 1, 2019