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PH D Project: “If Races Don't Exist, Why Are Forensic Anthropologists so Good at Identifying Them?”

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Anthropology and Metric Ancestry Estimation. A Critical Examination of FORDISC and CRANID

This project takes the on-going debate on the existence or non-existence of race in the disciplines of forensic and physical anthropology as a starting point. It seeks to understand how this debate has informed practices of ancestry estimation in the anthropological disciplines and what role it played in the emergence of concepts such as ‘social race’ or ‘geographic/biological ancestry’.

A research focus will be placed on two computer programmes (FORDISC and CRANID), which were developed in the 1990s to support and simplify the estimation of ancestry from the human skull. These programmes serve as an ideal point of departure as they form prime condensation points for the debate: while both their underlying principles and  the usefulness of their results have been questioned, they are also used and supported by many anthropologists around the world and are employed in various contexts (such as forensics, archaeology, or repatriation).

This research will look at the social, political, and historical contexts in which these tools were developed and are used today and the role of ancestry estimation in anthropology more broadly. It thus seeks to add to the understanding of the relationship between social and scientific debate and technological development as well as of the relationship between science and society more general.