Institute of Archaeology


Marion Davidson

The Frequency, Accuracy, and Reliability of the Ancestry Estimation Methods in Bioarchaeology and Forensic Anthropology


Email:  marion.davidson@ucl.ac.uk
Section: Archaeological Science


The Frequency, Accuracy, and Reliability of the Ancestry Estimation Methods in Bioarchaeology and Forensic Anthropology

In bioarchaeology and forensic anthropology, the estimation of ancestry from skeletal remains is considered the most controversial aspect of the biological profile.  First, the fundamental theory of ancestry estimation is rooted in a typological approach where cranial measurements were employed in an effort to rank human populations from superior to inferior.  Second, the concept of determining the ancestry (previously termed “race”) of human remains seems to contradict the basis that biological races do not exist.  As such, there remains a debate as to the achievable accuracy of ancestry estimation, with some publications indicating that this method highly accurate while others argue that the populations chosen to define an ancestral group cannot sufficiently represent all the skeletal variation within the defined group.  Additionally, as a forensic science, the evidence put forth by forensic anthropologists is an important aspect of criminal investigations and must maintain a certain level of quality.  However, the possible presence of cognitive bias has the potential to alter the interpretation of evidence.  While studies in forensic anthropology have demonstrated that the interpretation of human skeletal remains can be influenced by exposure to extraneous contextual information, the full extent in which cognitive bias can alter the interpretation of forensic evidence has yet to be empirically researched, particularly in ancestry estimation.  Due to the complicated nature of ancestry estimation and the potential of cognitive bias to alter the interpretation of evidence, additional empirical research into the frequently employed ancestry estimation methods and the decision-making processes involved is necessary.  My research aims to examine the frequency, accuracy, and reliability of the morphological ancestry determination methods employed in bioarchaeology and forensic anthropology.


  • BA, Anthropology, Adelphi University, 2017
  • MSc, Bioarchaeology and Forensic Anthropology, 2018


Conference Papers 

Davidson, M., Rando, C., Nakhaeizadeh, S., 2019. Cognitive bias and the order of examination on skeletal remains. Proceedings of the 71st Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.