A new research paper outlines the issues and challenges associated with migrant death investigations, specifically in the southeast United States.

Forensic Anthropologist Dr Meredith Tise, from the School of Life Sciences, focusses on migrants who enter the United States after leaving Latin America or the Caribbean to relocate to Florida for labour, such as on produce farms.

Endangered, missing and unidentified persons in Florida are growing problems, with significant numbers being from the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America.

In this paper, Dr Tise explored the craniometric variation among four Latin American groups (Mexican, Guatemalan, Puerto Rican, and Cuban) in comparison to American populations in order to assist in distinguishing these populations during ancestry estimation in forensic anthropological casework.

By improving the understanding of the historical and current biological relationships among diverse groups living in close proximity, forensic anthropologists can better utilise ancestry data into their biological profiles for human identification.

Dr Tise, whose research interests include human biological variation, particularly throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, the influence of migration on human biology, and sexual dimorphism, said: “After working in the state of Florida, it is very evident that more work needs to be done to assist in the development of forensic anthropological methods for these migrant populations. Each of these populations has varied ancestral histories which contribute to their skeletal differences. We need to be able to distinguish between individuals from Central America versus the Caribbean, but also within each of these geographic regions as well. Families deserve to know what happened to their loved one, and research such as this is a step in the right direction.

“My future research will continue to look at skeletal variation of Latin American populations, specifically in the Caribbean, to understand the influence produced by the arrival of the Spanish and West Africans during colonisation.”

The paper entitled ‘Craniometric Variation of Diverse Populations in Florida: Identification Challenges within a Border State’ has been published in the journal Annals of Anthropological Practice.