PeerJ Award Winners at AABA 2024

by | May 9, 2024 | Award Winner Interviews

The American Association of Biological Anthropologists (AABA) held its 93rd annual meeting in Los Angeles, California, in March of 2024. Participants gathered from 37 different countries spanning North and South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Middle East. With over 1,400 attendees at this past conference, AABA hosts the largest gathering of scientists investigating human and non-human primate evolutionary biology. Our conference is particularly friendly for student attendees. In fact, 44% of our 2024 attendees were students! We offer free registration for student volunteers or heavily reduced registration fees, travel awards, and the opportunity to compete for presentation prizes. We are honored and grateful that PeerJ offered to promote the work of AABA’s four student presentation prize winners for 2024.

Leslea J. Hlusko, AABA President


Esteban Rangel PhD student at University of New Mexico.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your research interests?

I am a PhD student in the Evolutionary Anthropology subfield at UNM. My main interests lie at the intersection of biological anthropology, archaeology, and cultural practices. I received my Bachelor’s in Anthropology with a minor in Geography from Texas State University and my Master’s in Anthropology from Eastern New Mexico University. My MA thesis project involved studying ancient Andean identity using geometric morphometric analysis of modified crania. I am research assistant helping with the collection of 3D landmark data for the Missing and Murdered American Indians project and I am also one of the osteologists for the Bladen Paleoindian and Archaic Archaeological Project, conducting skeletal analysis of Paleolithic Maya burials.

My main interests are in bioarchaeology, 3D geometric morphometrics, cranial modification, identity/personhood, biocultural practices, mortuary archaeology, Mesoamerican archaeology, and cranial morphology. I am also interested in improving forensic identification methods for underrepresented communities.

What first interested you in this field of research?

I’ve always had an interest in archaeology, but this expanded to biological anthropology during my undergraduate career. I was mainly interested in the interdisciplinary aspect of the field because I realized I could study human remains in both an archaeological and forensic context using the same methods.

Can you briefly explain the research you presented at AABA 2024?

My paper at AABA 2024 focused on testing population specific stature estimation equations for modern Native Americans. Native Americans are one of the many groups that have been the subject of much abuse by anthropologists over the centuries. This has created a reluctance to donate skeletal remains to science, which creates a large gap in the diversity of research samples. Forensic identification methods are only as good as the research samples from which they were obtained, thus a large part of the methods is not suitable for identifying modern Native Americans. Stature estimation is one of the key components of building a biological profile to aid in the identification of forensic human remains. Our project developed new equations to estimate stature from a modern Native American sample. My paper compared the accuracy of these new equations against previously used equations, which derived from archaeological samples and a Mexican sample. The results show that the new population specific equations were highly accurate. My paper also examined secular change of increased height of Native Americans from the archaeological and modern samples.

What are your next steps?

My next steps involve increasing the sample size, currently underway, of individuals in which we can test the equations to strengthen our results. I am also expanding the comparison to include population inclusive equations to determine if population specific equations are even needed. Another focus of the investigation is to examine the change in height, so I am hoping to investigate allometric patterns of limb proportions. Our larger project goals will expand on this research to improve identification methods for marginalized communities, not just in stature estimation, but also in population affinity from cranial data.

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