Sm. Sri. Med. Vol. 34, No. 2, pp. 107-111, 1992 0277-9536192 S5.00 + 0.00 Printed in Great Britain Pergamon Press plc
FORENSIC ANTHROPOLOGY AND THE CONCEPT OF RACE: IF RACES DON’T EXIST, WHY ARE FORENSIC
ARE ANTHROPOLOGISTS SO GOOD AT IDENTIFYING THEM?
NORMAN J. SAUER Department of Anthropology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, U.S.A.
Abstract-Most anthropologists have abandoned the concept of race as a research tool and as a valid representation of human biological diversity. Yet, race identification continues to be one of the central foci of forensic anthropological casework and research.
It is maintained in this paper that the successful assignment of the race to a skeletal specimen is not a vindication of the race concept, but rather a prediction that an individual, while alive was assigned to a particular socially constructed ‘racial’ category. A specimen may display features that point to African ancestry. In this country, that person is likely to have been labeled Black regardless of whether or not such a race actually exists in nature.
Key words-forensic anthropology, race, race identification, human variation
Several years ago, I was approached by the Michigan State Police for assistance with the identification of a set of decomposed human remains. The specimen, obviously human, was discovered in a wooded area by hunters, reported to the police, and transported to a morgue at a local hospital. After a standard anthro- biological evaluation of the material I concluded that the remains represented a Black female, who was 18-23 years old at death and between 5’2” and 5’6”.
The condition of the remains suggested that deposition occurred between 6 weeks and 6 months before discovery. That information was reported to the Investigative Resources Division of the State Police who matched it against Missing person records. In a few weeks’ time, the remains were positively identified as representing a Black female, who was 5’3” tall and 19 years of age when she disappeared about 3 months earlier.