Analyzing the biological relatedness of individuals from a mid- to late-1800s Missouri cemetery
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Biodistance studies are valuable tools in biological anthropology because they help address questions about population structure and demographics. In this study, metric and nonmetric data are used to examine the biological relatedness of 11 American Black individuals whose graves were exposed in the abandoned 19th century Shiloh Methodist Cemetery during flooding of the Missouri River in 1993. All associated Shiloh Methodist Church records and documents were destroyed in the flood, leaving the identity of these individuals unknown. The purpose of the study is to examine the biological distance between the Shiloh individuals and West African, American Black, and American White populations and the within group variation the Shiloh individuals to determine if there is phenotypic homogeneity among the Shiloh individuals.
Analyses of the metric and nonmetric indicate the individuals align most closely with American Blacks from the era than African populations. Mahalanobis distances between each pair of crania (D=2.79) are less than expected (D=3.61) for an American Black population and indicate that the Shiloh individuals examined were likely members of the same biological and cultural community. The results of this study do not support that the Shiloh individuals were recent migrants from Africa or members of a single family unit. The contrast between the funerary adornment of Shiloh Feature 13 and the other 10 individuals combined with their morphological similarities imply there were likely multiple social levels in the American Black community. Future research will include DNA analyses of the Shiloh sample to define their biological relationships, which will be compared with the current results to evaluate the relationship between metric and nonmetric data and their level(s) of genetic influence.