Can You Tell Ethnicity from Bones? | Which Bone is Use to Identify Race?

Ethnicity from Bones?

As per numerous forensic researches going on, anthwHICH bONE IS USE TO ropologists have tried to infer human ancestry from their morphoscopic traits that is from the features of face and skull bones. Several studies were conducted and features like the presence of an oval window in the inner part of the ear, the shape of the alveolar region, post-bregmatic depression, a tip on the top of the skull, etc. contributes to determining human history. Forensic Anthropologists examine the various features of the skull and compare it with the study of different people worldwide to determine ancestry. It has become very useful in recent times and can be used in various situations such as identifying a victim’s identity in criminal cases or accidents. Forensic anthropologists should be able to produce the profile of a person having the “Big Four”- age at death, sex, height, and race and they were able to sort skeletons into one of the “Big Three” regions-African, European or Asian.

Which bones are used to tell the human ancestry?

The skull is the most significant part of the human body which is used in identifying his ancestry. The bones of the skull carry the inheritable features from one generation to another. The Humerus or Femur can be used to determine the age and stature of a person. The shape of the pelvis helps in determining the gender of a person.
Forensic anthropologists, experts in skeletons that do work for law enforcement agencies, say they are extremely accurate at deciphering the signs that identify a dead person’s bones as African, Caucasian, Asian or American Indian.
The question of a person’s ancestry is reserved for the skull- especially, features of face and skull bones which varies across different groups of humans in different regions. The “post-bregmatic” depression is identified as a small indentation located on the top of some people’s heads. Some common features of the “Big Three” are given below:

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European Characteristics

They tend to have straight facial profiles and narrower faces with sharply angled nasal bones. They have sloping eye orbits, larger nasal spines, narrow and high nasal openings, and sharp, inferior nasal borders.

Asian Characteristics

They have wide faces and short and broad cranial vaults with large cheekbones. Their nasal openings are flared at the base which makes them heart-shaped and they have rounded eye orbits.

African characteristics

African ancestry tends to show greater facial forwardness and a small nasal spine with smooth and depressed inferior nasal borders and wider nasal chambers. They usually show rectangular eye orbits.

How is race identified from bones?

The study of ancestry is simple, forensic anthropologists measure the length of certain features of a human skeleton like the length of the pelvis, nasal spine, nasal openings, and along with that the length of the humerus, the upper limb, and other limbs and note that data. This data is then compared with the data of thousands of people worldwide and then the identification is made about the region where the person belongs and his age, height, and other genetic features.

ethinicity from bones

Why is it difficult to determine race accurately?

This concept is a bit hard for people to grasp. The reason behind finding features like race, which is not heritable is still unknown to researchers, there has not been any understanding as to why these traits occur and what they signify about a certain group of people or a certain region. Along with that, some of the discoveries about ancestry turned out to be flawed. A forensic expert at Michigan State University, Joe Hefner, examined more than 700 skulls for his master’s thesis and found out that only 40% of people from Africa had post-Bregmatic depression and it was more common in many other populations. About 17 morphoscopic traits are used to identify human ancestry but only 5 of them are examined and are found to be heritable which raises many questions. According to some scientists, the concept of finding race from bones is not scientific.

Factors Involved in Ethnicity Determination

Factors Description
Skeletal Morphology It is the study of bone shape, size and its structure that can provide insights to ancestral character
Dental Characteristics Examination of dental traits, including tooth morphology, size, dental occlusion, and dental pathologies, can provide insights into ethnic origin due to variations within populations.
Genetic Markers  DNA analysis can be utilized to identify specific genetic markers associated with particular ethnic groups, offering valuable information about ancestry.
Geographical Ancestry Considering the geographic origin of skeletal remains and comparing them to known population groups from those regions can aid in determining ethnicity.
Environmental Adaptations Certain skeletal adaptations, such as bone density, robusticity, and cranial morphology, can indicate long-term adaptations to specific environmental conditions associated with particular ethnic groups.
Epigenetic Markers Epigenetic modifications in the DNA, such as DNA methylation patterns, can provide additional insights into ethnic ancestry and help in determining ethnicity from bones.
Isotopic Analysis Isotopic analysis of bone tissue, including stable isotopes of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and strontium, can reveal information about dietary patterns and geographic origins, aiding in ethnicity determination.
Anthropological Context Studying the historical and cultural context of the skeletal remains, along with archaeological evidence, can provide valuable information about the ethnic group to which an individual may belong.
Cranial Features Analysis of skull features, such as cranial shape, facial structure, nasal index, and eye orbit shape, can help identify common traits associated with different ethnic backgrounds.


Identifying the race of subadults

The identification of race is based on traditional forensic methods and lacks the underlying data needed to accurately identify the age, gender, and race in skeletal remains. This makes the identification of these factors in infants and children difficult as their bones are not completely developed. It was confronted that the “subadult” skeletal remains, which are defined as ranging from birth to age 20, face several limits on what can be determined about their ancestry as compared to that of adults. The major question that remains unanswered in this case is the age of the deceased. The standard measures for determining the age of subadult skeletal remains at the time of his death include long bone lengths, teeth, and the fusion of growth plates in bones. The biggest drawback of this method is that those indicators are useful and work best only during a certain period of growth of an individual and, are limited in what they can reveal.
For determining the features of a subadult, certain criteria were decided. Teeth may be the best indicator of age when the mouth is full of teeth but again, it fails for infants and children of age up to 3 years. Long bones such as the femur, humerus, and tibia are good age markers for children of ages 7-10. These factors are still under study.


Initially, a lot of forensic studies took place in which the experts tried to separate individuals into different regions based on the measurements of their bones and the size and shape of the skull. But when these studies were conducted again looking at the species from a different time and different area, it resulted in a random collection of data. Some experts say that with this data, we are not finding the race of a person but its identity. Every individual has a unique identity and these researches help us clarify their identity in an easier way.
Through this article, we reach the final conclusion that race, age, gender, and height can be identified based on the data collected from the measurements of the bones of a person but the exact information that may be inferred from that data is still unavailable and these identifications for subadults are still not up to the mark.