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

Comparison between Von Luschan tiles and spectrophotometry in human skin color variation


1Department of Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University, 2Department of Genetics, Texas Biomedical Research Institute

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Prior to the introduction of skin reflectometry in the 1950’s, human skin color was classified by a matching method using Von Luschan tiles. Unexposed skin was compared against 36 standardized, opaque glass tiles arranged in a chromatic scale. Our goal was to establish quantitative correlations between tile-based color-matching and reflectometry methods in order to make historical data accessible. Skin pigmentation measurements were taken at three locations (forehead, upper inner arms, and backs of the hands) using the tiles and narrow- and broad-band spectrophotometers in volunteers of a range of skin pigmentations in State College, Pennsylvania and Atlanta, Georgia. Only 50% of the tiles were used by the observers because some were of shades deemed unrealistic and others were difficult to distinguish from one another. Regression analysis indicated a moderate correlation between the tiles and melanin index (M) measured by spectrophotometry (R2= 0.66, p = 0.004). Volunteers self-identified their racial designation and ethnicity. The M values for each affiliation had distinct ranges, but also showed significant overlap. These data provided a range of M values for the tiles utilized and, more specifically, for the most commonly used and less problematic tile colors, and can later be used to approximate the M in historical studies.

The results of this study make possible comparison of historical, tile-based data with those collected using reflectometry. This is particularly important for populations now extinct, extirpated, or increasingly admixed for which tile-based data on skin pigmentation are the only type available.

Partial financial support for this research came from the Africana Research Center of The Pennsylvania State University.

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