Semester of Graduation

Spring 2021


Master of Arts (MA)


Geography and Anthropology

Document Type



In response to Beathard and DiGangi’s (2020) call to action for empirical assessment of population affinity estimation methodology, this study investigates the validity of maxillary palate shape as an indicator of ancestral population affinity for human skeletal remains through the use of Elliptical Fourier Analysis (EFA) and Linear Discriminant Function Analysis (DFA). Further, this study also places emphasis on the expressed variation of palate shape within and between population groups exemplified by Principal Component Analysis (PCA) of EFA data.

Computed tomography scans of 180 individuals of Black, White, and Hispanic population affinities were obtained from the New Mexico Decedent Imaging Database and were used to construct 3D volume renderings of the cranium and obtain images of the maxillary palate. Individuals’ palates were then outlined using a landmark-based approach prior to EFA. Resulting outlines were then analyzed using EFA to obtain shape quantification.

ANOVA results indicate statistically insignificant variation among all population groups in this study. Further, PCA results and subsequent reconstructed contours indicate that variation expressed within and between groups are visually similar exemplifying that the variation expression of the palate is more complex than previously understood. Moreover, DFA analysis exhibits inconclusive results with correct classification ranging from 13% to 42% of the time when coupled with sex. Conversely, successful classification increases to 72% when looking specifically at White and Black groups independent of sex.

Results indicate that the shape of the maxillary palate does not serve as a sole indicator of ancestry. Additionally, the results demonstrate that the three shape exemplars (hyperbolic, parabolic, and elliptical) that are used in forensic casework and training are observed in all three population groups in this study. Moreover, special consideration is given to modern biocultural applications to explain the inhibition of the palate as a proper delineator of population affinity in forensic anthropological casework and urges research investigating the effects of modern dentistry and orthodontia on the craniofacial complex.

Committee Chair

Listi, Ginesse, A