November 14, 2008

Tribute to W. W. Howells

The Yearbook of Physical Anthropology has a tribute to the late W. W. Howells. One of his greatest achievements is certainly his meticulously collected worldwide cranial sample which is available online, and includes measurements on both recent humans of the last few millennia, as well as several earlier samples that were available to him. This sample is routinely used even today by anthropologists studying human variation, or trying to place historical hominids into context.

I have previously used this dataset in some earlier posts (search "Howells") and in my article on Model-Based Clustering of World Craniometric Variation (also as pdf), in which I repeated his clustering of world human populations, but using a computationally expensive model-based clustering algorithm (conceptually similar to STRUCTURE in genetics) that was not available during his time.

One of his lesser achievements was being the mentor at Harvard of the recently deceased author Michael Crichton.

American Journal of Physical Anthropology
Volume 137 Issue S47, Pages 118 - 126

From the shoulders of a giant: Perspectives on the legacy of William White Howells (1908-2005)

Laurie R. Godfrey


William White Howells was one of the intellectual giants of the discipline of biological anthropology during the twentieth century. He was a devoted student of Earnest A. Hooton; yet he played a central role in directing the discipline away from the typological thinking that infused the work of his predecessor, and toward the population perspective that characterizes the field today. An original and productive scholar with diverse interests, his influence was extraordinary not merely because of his brilliance, but also because of the kind of mentor he was. Almost two dozen graduate students, and countless others with whom he interacted in various capacities, have carried Howells' legacy into the twenty-first century.