The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)

Identification of skeletal remains using vertebral body osteophytes


Chemistry, University of Leicester, Archaeology, Simon Fraser University

April 18, 2020 4:00PM, Diamond 8-9 Add to calendar

Osteophytes have a complex etiology which produces quantifiable individual variation applicable to the identification of human remains.

Two hundred computerized tomography (CT) scans of thoracic and lumbar areas of 80 females and 120 males, obtained from The Cancer Imaging Archive, were examined. The right, anterior, and left parts of the superior and inferior margins of the vertebral bodies were scored using a 0-4 system. Frequency and likelihood ratio (LR) of each score at each data point was calculated.

Spearman’s Rho tests identified points with negligible (-0.30<p>0.30) correlation. The resulting matrix illustrates independently occurring osteophytes. Independent LRs can be multiplied, increasing specificity. A Kruskal-Wallis test identified the impact of age and sex. Regarding sex, 98% of points resulted in p > 0.05. Sex had no significance. In testing age p < 0.05 on 78% of data points, age was deemed significant. The population was grouped in 10 year increments > 30 and < 80 for application of the identification method.

On three sample cases, the least frequently occurring scores at data points on available vertebrae were selected, and using the matrix produced from the Spearman’s Rho test independent data points were identified. The LR for each score was ascertained within the appropriate age group, then multiplied. A LR of 6.68, 41, and 56.61 for individuals 34, 51, and 69 years, respectively.

This preliminary method can be definitive for small pools of possible identities, and can be combined with likelihood ratios associated with other aspects of the skeletal biography.