The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Determination of Ancestry in Historical Skeletal Populations: Two Case Studies from French Colonial Sites in the U.S


1Anthropology and Sociology, University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, 2Department of Earth and Space Sciences, Columbus State University (GA)

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With its ability to address ancestry in past populations, bioarchaeology is singularly well placed to help reconstruct the multiethnic interactions characteristic of colonial settings. This project compares ancestry determinations based on skeletal morphology and mtDNA analysis at two 18th century French Colonial skeletal series: Ft Michilimackinac (20EM52), a fur trading post in northern Michigan where Europeans, Native Americans and Metis resided; and Moran (22HR511), an immigration staging site in Biloxi, Mississippi, with a predominantly European population.

Approximately 27 individuals from Moran and 33 individuals from Ft Michilimackinac were examined for a variety of standard cranial, dental, and femoral indicators of ancestry. mtDNA haplogroups were obtained for a subset in each series. Surprisingly, only one of 15 tested at Ft Michilimackinac had a Native American haplogroup. The population, however, showed highly variable expressions of most skeletal traits, including suggestions of African ancestry, with multiple indicators for an individual often in conflict. Even traits such as incisor form and zygomatic projection failed to show expected correlations. At Moran, genetic results supported a homogeneous population, but morphological traits again showed a broad range of expression, with many individuals displaying broad noses and brachycranic vaults generally unassociated with European ancestry.

Possible explanations for results include high levels of intrapopulational variation for most traits, difficulty in assessing admixture, effects of secular change on standards employed, and variable quality in markers used due to preservation issues. This suggests that ancestry assignments in past populations should be considered tentative, especially if strong corroborating evidence is not present.

This research was supported by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.

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