Anthropology, Department of




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Nebraska Anthropologist (2024) 30


Copyright 2024, Patrick Barchett. Used by permission


Review of Atlas of Human Cranial Macromorphoscopic Traits by Joseph T. Hefner and Kandus C. Linde. 2018. Academic Press, Cambridge. XXXI + 324 pp. $150 hardcover or $0 PDF on ResearchGate. 978-0-12-814385-8. Reviewed by Patrick Barchett, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

In the authors' concluding remarks, they address that, while they have many samples and photographs, they could not ever hope to provide the full context of human variation. With an estimated 107 billion people who are alive and have ever lived, this understanding is more important than ever. The authors also include that there is very little known about the connections between genetics and macromorphoscopic traits. I believe that this point should have been more heavily focused on throughout the text. While many traits may be correlated to different people groups, so little is known about the genetic origins of these traits, that correlation may not equal causation. The authors did bring up a very interesting point in facial reconstruction. If we could find genetic markers that align with different facial features, we may be able to create more accurate facial reconstructions. However, we should still be cautious of this, as human variation exists along clines and genetic stereotyping can be dangerous for reinforcing racist ideologies. Again, the authors of the text discuss Hooton and his contributions to the study of macromorphoscopic traits with no mention of his despicable ideals.

If you ignore all the text and only focus on the pictures, the book is successful in its purpose: to provide a guide and standardization for macromorphoscopic traits. For most of the text, the pictures do provide a visual description of the human variation expected in each of the traits, which could be valuable if not in the context of ancestry estimation. I would not recommend this book to anyone, even if they are specifically interested in cranial macromorphoscopic traits. Despite being written in 2018, it seems to be surprisingly out of date, and the authors clearly did not consult anyone from the people groups to whom the skeletons belong to get their perspective of how the data should be labeled. Throughout the text, the authors also do not mention if the collections they gathered data from were ethical sourced. While it is important to have data from a variety of populations, the use of skeletal material without the consent of the deceased or their kin is becoming harder and harder to excuse, especially when publishing photographs of them. This text is far from the only popular text with ethical concerns (such as the aforementioned text by White and Folkens, 2005), but that does not contradict the concerns within this text. Overall, this text is below subpar and should not be used by anyone wanting to move past the problematic history of biological anthropology.

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