If ‘races’ don’t exist, why and how do forensic anthropologists

Topics: Race and Ethnicity, Ethnic group, Anthropology Pages: 8 (2716 words) Published: May 30, 2014
‘Race’ is a term with many negative connotations, one can’t help but think of the conflicts and atrocities that have occurred throughout history as a result of racial classification. As a result race has been retired as a valid representation of human biological diversity. Far more common in lay persons day to day life, the term ethnicity has become prominent as a replacement ‘politically correct’ term for classifying an individual’s ancestry, migration status, nationality, citizenship, religion and language Burns (1999). Nevertheless forensic anthropologists still use ‘race’ as a key identifying factor when assessing human remains. Being able to place an individual or group into a distinct category allows anthropologists to give a reasonably accurate prediction of the social constructed ‘racial’ category that individual or group were assigned to while alive Byers, Myster (2005). Throughout our long history, humans have spread themselves to every corner of the earth. Some have continued to travel while some have been more sedimentary and isolated. Over time genetic drift has occurred through mutation and natural selection. Being isolated, due to geographic or cultural barriers, encourages genetic drift by reducing the size of the available ‘gene pool’. Where travel is not hindered by geographic or cultural barriers the mix of genes acts to hinder the creation of distinct ‘racial groups’ Burns (2013). Our Propensity for racial classification goes back as far as biblical times. In the book of genesis, Noah’s three sons are said to be the fathers of three separate peoples. The Semites, the Hamites, and the Japhetites. Pliny the elder noted the difference between what he deemed to be civilised man and the barbarians from Europe. In Egypt the known ‘races’ were identified and documented to be Libyan, Nubian, Asiatic and Egyptian. Even during this time, when travel was far more difficult, phenotypically different, and culturally different, groups were being identified and grouped accordingly. Skip forward to the 1400’s and we see Europeans exploring and colonising the known world. In 1492 the Americas were discovered and with them a set of new ‘races’ to be classified and explained. Linné (1758) identifies four human subspecies based on races. At this point the slave trade was well established and justified with a hierarchical system formed on racial groups. While monogenism was the principle theory, hierarchy was important throughout this era. Naturally those creating the models believed themselves to be either at the top or the original. Placing themselves over the other ‘races’ allowing them to do with them what they please. Blumenbacks identification of 5 ‘races’ based on skull morphology was scientific in spirit but lacked the wide enough sample group to be considered an accurate measure of racial profiling. Blumenbach is considered the father of modern metric craniometry Blumenbach (1865). However this work aided in the justification and proliferation of the slave trade and early attempts of eugenics in a form of scientifically justified racism. During the 1800’s there is a move away from a monogenic origin theory to a polygenism theory. Each ‘race’ is said to have a different ancestral species. Influential anthropologists such as Louis Agassiz and Josiah Nott supported the polygenism theory. In the early 1900’s Boas conducted a study looking into the relationship between skull shape and size with respect to race. His results effectively argued against the essentialist movement, which has been prominent up to this point. Never the less the argument topic was still hotly contested with prominent anthropologists on either side of the fence. It was not until the Nazi holocaust that views were drastically changed to support the synthesis of micro evolution theory, predominantly lead by figures such as Julien Huxley and Dobzhansky Livingstone, Dobzhansky. (1962). As a continuous trait ‘race’ is much more difficult to...

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