The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

The influence of body size on adult skeletal age estimation


Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto

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When skeletal remains are found in prehistoric, historic, or forensic contexts, establishing age at death is an important step in reconstructing life histories, building demographic profiles, and identifying victims. One variable not often considered in adult age estimation is that of body size; namely, how the degeneration of weight-bearing joints and non-weight-bearing joints in individuals with varying heights and weights may be affected by skeletal aging. Age estimation studies have not systematically considered body size as a variable that could influence our standards. This study assessed age from weight-bearing and non-weight-bearing bone surfaces in skeletons of individuals with known heights and weights at death.

Eight age estimation methods were applied to over 750 skeletons from the Hamann-Todd and William Bass Collections. Individuals ranged in size from 4’3’’ to 6’3’’(1.30m to 1.93m) and 53lbs to 220lbs (24kg to 99.8kg). The pubic symphysis, auricular surface, sacrum, and acetabulum represented the weight-bearing joints; the first and fourth ribs represented the non-weight-bearing joints. Preliminary analyses show that underweight individuals are typically under-aged by the largest margin at all sites, regardless of weight-bearing or non-weight-bearing joint, while the trend for average-weight, overweight, and obese individuals is less clear. For average-weight and heavier individuals, the pattern of age markers tends to be more important in assessing age. On the weight-bearing joints of obese individuals, osteophytic lipping is more pronounced but macroporosity is less common. These results suggest body size is important in age estimation.

This study was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, grant 752-2010-2124.

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