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Chapter: Forensic Medicine: Identification

Determining ethnic type (race)

When a complete body is available there should be little difficulty in determining race, except sometimes in the case of an infant.

Determining ethnic type (race)

When a complete body is available there should be little difficulty in determining race, except sometimes in the case of an infant. The differences between the different races may overlap, and this creates special problems in mixed racial groups, such as the so-called Cape Coloured. Skin colour, the colour and the form of the hair from the scalp, and the shape of the skull can provide helpful clues to the probable racial identity of the specimen.

Haldane (1943:161±162) said the following in this regard:

In crosses between Europeans and West Africans, such as those which furnished most of the coloured population of the United States, the skin colour is roughly intermediate, but the hair form is predominantly that of the negro. The same is true of crosses between whites and Bantu-speaking negroids of South Africa. But with other black races things are very different. The first generation of the cross between Europeans and Melanesians commonly have wavy not even curly  -   hair of the European type, and the skin may be pale-yellow rather than brown.

In later generations there is no general rule. The union of a white and a mulatto (first cross of European and West African) rarely if ever gives anything like pure whites. The racial characters blend. This is to say, they are probably due to a large number of genes on different chromosomes. Thus supposing there were genes for colour on ten different chromosomes of the West African, we should expect one in a thousand from the mulatto-white cross to be white (though probably with negroid hair or lips), and only one white in a million from the union of two mulattos.

But with the Bantu negroids the work of Lotsy and Goddijn has shown a very different situation. Marriages between Europeans and half-castes of the first generation often give children with white skins, blue eyes, and straight yellow hair. This presumably means that the South Africans differ from Europeans as regards a small number only of genes making for colour and hair form.

The same is true of the Chinese. Among the children of two parents each derived from a Cantonese mother and a European father, appeared one boy with grey eyes without the epicanthus which gives the characteristic Mongolian slant, brown hair with a gold glint and a pink-and-white complexion. In fact he could pass as an English boy, and is decidedly less ``coloured'' than most Italians or Spaniards. But at least one of his brothers was, at any rate to European eyes, definitely of the Chinese type. This again means that the Chinese, at least as regards the more obvious physical characteristics, differ from Europeans in respect of a few genes only. In fact it is not infrequent for a hybrid of the first generation to produce a gamete with a set of genes characteristic not merely of Europeans, but of northern Europeans. And when two such gametes unite we get a child of northern European type.


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