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

Cementochronology, to cut or not to cut ?


1Université de Bordeaux, UMR 5199 PACEA, 2Université de Lille, Centre Michel de Bouard, 3Laboratoire d’Anthropologie, Communauté d’Agglomération du Douaisis, Direction de l’Archéologie Préventive, 4Université de la Méditerranée Aix Marseille, UMR 7268 ADÉS, 5University of Arkansas, 6Centre d’Etudes Paléopathologiques du Nord.

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The use of cementum annulations for estimating adult age-at-death has been recently successfully revived through careful methodological advances with several tests on reference collections indicating very high correlation (r> 0.9) between civil and observed age. Cementochronology is however still not widely implemented, often because of misunderstanding of underlying biological processes or lack of training. The question thus remains for bioarchaeologists or forensic anthropologists today, to cur or not to cut?

To answer this question, we are presenting a systematic review of the cementochronology literature from all disciplines to highlight both the reliable facts and the remaining possible biases. We will then synthesized recent results that stemmed from our new “Cementochronology Research Program” which addresses some of the major issues recently expressed in the literature such as the nature of the observed increments, the variability of intra individual cementum apposition or the influence of taphonomy and pathological conditions on acellular cementum.

Finally, we present several new practical tools to help improve the implementation of cementochronology such as full protocols, automated counting software (beta version), recording spreadsheet, and self-training databases of histological sections from our reference collections.

Even though cementochronology is somewhat expensive to set up, time consuming and destructive, it is also the only method without a scoring protocol based on reference populations and without any statistical processing, which effectively remove most known methodological biases. Since cementochronology is the most precise adult age estimator published so far, the authors strongly recommend its implementation with careful supervision and training.

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