Ancestry refers to a pattern of genetic descent of an individual, and can be assessed by analyzing various features of the skeleton. Cranial features are often the most useful for determining ancestry. (Keep reading below for more information about the use of ancestry in forensic anthropology.)
Certain cranial features used in the assessment of ancestry can be grouped according to the general regions of the skull where they are found. For example, the anterior aspect of the cranium, including the nasal (nose) and orbital (eye) areas of the face, exhibits a number of skeletal features that are commonly used to determine ancestry. The shape of the orbits, the zygomatic arch shape, the zygomaticomaxillary suture, and the ascending ramus are all features that are evaluated in assessing ancestry.
The maxillary first molar (occasionally the second, but rarely the third) can have an accessory cusp on the mesiolingual surface. Mesiolingual refers to the quadrant of the tooth that is located mesially (towards the front of the mouth) and lingually (towards the tongue). This feature has grades from a small pit or ridge to a full sized cusp. The trait can effect up to 85 % of some European populations.
Shoveling is most commonly found in maxillary incisors but can also be present in the mandibular incisors and sometimes in canine teeth. Hrdlicka (1920) created the term “shovel-shaped” to describe anterior teeth with a deep fossa (an anatomical pit, groove, or depression) on the lingual surface created by large marginal ridges. This is a normal morphological feature of the tooth which has been exaggerated in cases of shoveling. Double shoveling refers to a ridge on the labial surface of the tooth which may or may not occur in addition to the lingual ridge. Populations from Asia and Native America generally have the highest frequencies of shoveling with occurrences in up to 90 % of the population.