Epigenetic Traits, Computerized Tomography And Native American Identity

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Rivera Prince, Jordi

For over two centuries, epigenetic traits were considered minor variations in trait expressions found on the human skull, and largely disregarded. It is now known many of these traits are heritable and potentially define population affinity. Native American skeletal collections have been diminishing after the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Epigenetic traits have the potential to indicate population affinity in the event cultural affiliation cannot be determined. When Native American remains are repatriated from the Penn Museum’s Physical Anthropology section, the only primary data collection source is their Computerized Tomography (CT) scan on the Open Research Scan Archive (ORSA). As systematic data collection of epigenetic traits has not been undertaken at the current time, it is crucial to determine the accuracy of CT scans for diagnosing cranial epigenetic traits. The methods for epigenetic trait diagnosis (whether binaries or in gradations) are non-destructive, but require manipulation of the physical crania. It is important to ascertain which epigenetic traits should be scored when the physical remains are available. A population of 38 crania were scored for 172 epigenetic traits. A regression analysis tested the epigenetic trait score of 50 of the traits collected on the CT scan as a predictor for the score of the trait on each physical specimen. The resulting analysis indicates that for 27 of the 50 traits tested, CT scans were not a strong predictor for the score on the Physical specimen and data collection will potentially suffer in the event of repatriation or loss of the remains.

Janet Monge
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