Accepted Paper:

What Are We Measuring? Levels of Historical Bias in Reference Collections and Implications for Research in the 21st Century.  


John Albanese (University of Windsor)

Paper short abstract:

Identified skeletal collection can be used effectively for forensic research. The key to success is to assess the levels of bias and their influence on the research question addressed. Possible problems and the research potential of these collections are illustrated with specific examples.

Paper long abstract:

Identified skeletal reference collections have been and can continue to be an invaluable source of data for developing and testing forensic methods (age at death, stature, sex). However, all reference collections, regardless of the source (anatomical, autopsy or cemetery), the age (late 19th, early 20th or late 20th century) or the format (skeletal or database), have various levels of bias that are derived from the historical context of the collector(s), the paradigm of the discipline at the time of collecting and the greater society within which the collecting has occurred. These three levels of bias have had an influence on which skeletons were included in the collection, and what documentary data were collected, cross-referenced and curated with the skeletal remains. Despite these biases, and in some cases because of these biases, identified skeletal collection can be used effectively in rigorous research that is forensically relevant in the 21st century. The key to the success of any research involving these collections is to assess the possible levels of bias and their influence (both positive and negative) on the research question that is addressed. Some of the possible problems and the research potential of reference collections are illustrated with examples using data from the Terry Collection (Smithsonian Institution, U.S.A.), Coimbra Collection (University of Coimbra, Portugal), Lisbon Collection (Bocage Museum, Portugal) and the Grant Collection (University of Toronto, Canada).

Panel LD26
Identified skeletal collections: the testing ground of anthropology?