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Simulation for Exploring the Effects of the "Trait List" Method's Subjectivity on Consistency and Accuracy of Ancestry Estimations

NCJ Number
Journal of Forensic Sciences Volume: 56 Issue: 5 Dated: September 2011 Pages: 1094-1106
Date Published
September 2011
13 pages

This study used a mathematical simulation to examine the possible analytical variations of trait list ancestry estimation.


The nonmetric "trait list" methodology is widely used for estimating ancestry of skeletal remains. However, the effects of the method's embedded subjectivity on subsequent accuracy and consistency are largely unknown. The authors developed a mathematical simulation to test whether variation in the application of the "trait list" method altered the ancestry estimation for a given case. The author's simulation explores how variations in (i) trait selection, (ii) number of traits employed, and (iii) ancestry choice thresholds affect the ancestry estimation of an unidentified skeleton. Using two temporally and geographically diverse samples, the simulation demonstrates that trait selection, trait quantity, threshold choices, and the exclusion of high-frequency traits had minimal effect on estimation of general ancestry. For all datasets and Runs, Accuracy(AS) was maintained above 90 percent. The authors close with a discussion on the logistical issues present when choosing traits, and how to avoid ancestry bias. (Published Abstract)

Date Published: September 1, 2011