The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Measuring up: the analysis of postcranial traits for the assessment of biological distance among temporally distinct New World populations of African descent


Anthropology & Sociology, University of Southern Mississippi

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Biological distance studies measure the degree of relatedness or divergence between populations or subgroups within populations based upon polygenic skeletal and dental traits, and have proven useful in evaluating the effects of genetic and environmental factors on human diversity.

This study examines how postcranial genetic osteometric markers changed over time in four temporally distinct New World populations of African ancestry. Individuals from the 17th century Newton (Barbados) Plantation series, late 19th and early 20th century individuals from the Hamann-Todd collection, and mid-20th century individuals from the Bass/Forensic Database collection were utilized for this study, providing a sample of over 250 individuals. A total of 26 measurements that had been previously suggested as demonstrating differences by ancestry were taken on the os coxae, femur, tibia, and sacrum, as outlined in Buikstra and Ubelaker (1995). Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics as well as the C.A.B. Smith Mean Measure of Divergence and Mahlanobis D Squared testing.

Preliminary results correlate with expected changes. Males and females from Newton were more robust than individuals from the more contemporary populations. Interestingly, the greatest differences occur among the females of each collection, with leg measurements showing more change than those of the sacrum or pelvis. Crural index length also supports a dynamic change between the female groups, with values over time resembling those more generally seen in Europeans. These differences in skeletal dimensions are likely the product of increasing genetic admixture as well as differences in habitual workload.

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