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Migration and Variation in the Americas

Benjamin M. Auerbach

The ancestral populations, antiquity of human movements, the patterns of colonization in the Americas continue to be topics of great interest to all sub-disciplines of anthropology.  His ongoing research program pursues these topics by examining human morphological variation in the New World prior to European colonization half a millennium ago.  Most of this work uses the skeletal remains from past populations to reconstruct the shape, size, proportions, and strength of bodies.  These are in turn examined to document patterns of morphological variation across the Americas and change in physical appearance over time.  The goal of this research is to discern the movements and possible adaptations of humans as they encountered novel environments and settled over long periods in the diverse ecologies of North and South America.

This research was initially funded by the National Science Foundation, resulting in a data set of measurements obtained by him from the skeletal remains of over 3000 adult humans from 180 archaeological sites.  These include some of the oldest human remains recovered in North America, including the Kennewick, Spirit Cave, Horn Shelter, Wizard’s Beach, and Little Salt Spring skeletons.  The data set continues to form the basis of future investigations, which will seek an expanded sample from the Americas and gather additional types of metric and non-metric data.  Students interested in investigating modern human variation and adaptation in the Americas are encouraged to join in this expanding research agenda.

Related to this research, a Center for Archaeological Investigations (CAI) Visiting Scholar conference organized by him was held at Southern Illinois University Carbondale in April 2008 to bring together archaeologists and biological anthropologists.  The focus of the two-day meeting was to discuss the interface of data from the two fields in understanding human variation in the Americas.  The CAI will publish an edited volume based on papers delivered at the conference in the spring of 2010.

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