W.W. Howells Gets a Mention

Today, I found a blog from a physical anthropologist that mentions a data set I used some time ago. Afarensis (part of the new ScienceBlogs) discusses the seminal work of W. W. Howells in performing an analysis of the cranial measurements of dozens of indigenous populations around the world.

I had ment to cover the great experiments or papers in physical anthropology in this post. One of the papers I had planned on mentioning was Cranial Variation in Man: A Multivariate Analysis of Patterns of Difference among Recent Human Populations. The paper was published in the Papers of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (number 67, note anybody out there with access to this paper? I would love a copy…). This is probably the most important paper published in physical anthropology in the last 50 years. Howells took 68 measurments on over 3,000 skulls from Africa, Asia, the Pacific and Europe and used multivariate statistics to analyze the variation in the crania. Today we have a large number of similar databases (FORDISC comes to mind) and prettymuch revolutionized the study of human skeletal variation.

Source: Afarensis

I was lucky enough to perform a cladistic analysis of the same data set for my undergraduate thesis. Cladistics is the study of derived traits to determine common ancestry of different individuals. I used the application MacClade (which I am delighted to see still exists) on a Mac SE to process the data. My study provided additional confirmation (not needed, I am sure) of Howells’ results. Namely, the amount of variation within a human population is far greater than the variation among different populations. This raised the question: if people among different races are more similar to each other on average than are people within the same race, then what is race?

I am sorry to learn that Howells passed away just a month ago at the age of 97.

(Yes, I do have copies of Howells’ two reports on the topic. However, they are bound, so I don’t think they can easily be copied.)

Comments are closed.