Swiss naturalists Paul and Fritz Sarasin visited Sri Lanka on five occasions. Their later visits were focused on anthropological research on the Indigenous Wannila Atto (‘Vedda’) people and exploration of prehistoric settlements in Sri Lanka. Among the Sarasins’ anthropological and archaeological collections are skeletal material of several ethnic groups of Sri Lanka belonging to the 19th and early 20th centuries. This collection is curated at the Natural History Museum of Basel, Switzerland. The ethnolinguistic groups represented in the Sarasins’ collection include the ‘Vedda,’ Tamil, and Sinhala people of Sri Lanka, and it constitutes the largest ‘Vedda’ cranial collection housed at a single institution. The objective of this paper is to compare cranial variation of the Indigenous ‘Vedda’ and other Sri Lankan ethnic groups using this important dataset, while publishing the raw craniometric data for further studies. Observations on the dentition show that the Tamil and Sinhala individuals had high incidences of caries and dental abscesses that are typically associated with agriculturalists and that cribra orbitalia associated with iron deficiency was relatively common among all three ethnic groups. Betel quid chewing for recreational and cultural purposes, a practice that is widespread even today, had left dark stains on the teeth of many individuals of all groups in the sample. Multivariate statistical analyses on the craniometric data show that there is significant overlap among the three ethnic groups in terms of cranial shape. These findings underscore the importance of considering the ‘Vedda,’ Tamil, and Sinhala groups from Sri Lanka as closely related, due to gene flow over millennia.
This paper seeks to provide a stabilized (i.e. less vulnerable to differences in sex representation) equation for estimating maternal mortality for biased skeletal samples. The stabilized equation is developed and tested on the United Nations data used to develop the original method (McFadden and Oxenham, Current Anthropology, 60(1), 141–146), and is applied to 16 bioarchaeological samples from mainland Southeast Asia. First-order correlations and basic descriptive statistics were applied to the data. The stabilized equation was comparable in accuracy to the original equation. When applied to bioarchaeological samples, it proved to be advantageous where the sex ratio differed by more than 0.15 in either direction (i.e. more females or more males). The stabilized equation is an improvement over the original equation for samples that exhibit sex bias that is randomly distributed by age. This method extends the potential applications of the maternal mortality estimator.