An evaluation of current techniques for age and sex determination from adult human skeletal remains
The identification of the sex and age-at-death of an individual is of primary importance in the analysis and description of adult human skeletal remains in both forensic and archaeological contexts. Many current methods of sex and age determination have been derived on a very small number of skeletal collections and critical evaluations of their reliability on material of different provenance have been few. The purpose of this investigation was to evaluate the utility of methods (a) in widespread use for age and sex estimation, or (b) even if not in widespread use but offering particular advantages and (c) derived during the course of this investigation with a view designed to improving accuracy of prediction and ease of application. Three European skeletal series of documented age and sex of different temporal origins were used for this evaluation. Only non-destructive tests were evaluated. For sex determination metric and non-metric observations from the innominate were tested, as it is generally considered the most dimorphic area of the adult skeleton. The discriminatory potential of long bone dimensions was also assessed since they tend to survive inhumation better than the innominate and may be the only skeletal material represented in fragmentary remains. Pubic symphyseal metamorphosis is probably the most frequently used method for age-at-death estimation and its utility as a predictor of chronological age was examined as was the degree of degenerative joint disease as evidenced from the long bones. A method was devised based on estimates of bone loss from radiographs and densitometric traces of the humerus. It provided the lowest standard error of estimate in age-at-death assessment. Many of the methods in current use proved less efficient in sex and age identification in the samples investigated than on the material on which they were derived. The reasons for this, and the implications for the reconstruction of biological identity from skeletal remains are discussed and recommendations for age and sex estimations on the innominate and long bones are made.