Journal of comparative human biology




Often when skeletal remains are found and confirmed as being of human origin, the determination of its gender and race, before the identification of the person is finally concluded. The mandible can therefore be used in order to determine these two key factors. This report aims to analyse the use of the mandible for sexing and ancestry (racial background), and exploring the advantages and disadvantages of this particular method, especially in terms of identifying in a diverse society.


Anthropology as defined by The University of Dundee (no date) is the "analysis of human remains for medico-legal purposes", and in the forensic aspect serves as one of the most important tools of identification of ancient and decomposed remains.

According to Rai et al (2007), one of the main differences of the genetic male and female is the individual characteristic of their skeleton. The skeleton is referred to as an excellent material in living and non-living population for genetic, anthropological, odontology and forensic investigations.

Lady using a tablet
Lady using a tablet


Essay Writers

Lady Using Tablet

Get your grade
or your money back

using our Essay Writing Service!

Essay Writing Service

Older methods (still used today), make use of other bones of the body in order to identify the sex and race of the skeleton, these include, the cranium and the pelvis (ventral arc, subpubic concavity, and subpubic angle). Prompting Oettle et al (2009) to suggest that, physical anthropologists have persistently looked for new means of determining gender from other areas of the skeletal remains (In cases where the pelvis and upper cranium cannot be found or used for identification). According to Hu et al (2006), "the mandible is the largest and hardest facial bone and retains its shape better than other bones in the forensic and physical anthropologic field". This is of particular importance in relation to human identification as its durability can be the only reason a skeletal remains true identity is known. This quality can be exploited to distinguish ancestry and to identify gender.


The identification of skeletal remains as male or female is particularly important as it can help confirm or exclude an individual's identity. As Kemkes-Grotternthaler (2002) identifies, this determination of gender can be conducted using two methods, metrically (using previous statistics) or descriptively (Morphologically). As the cranial features vary between the two genders, and the differentiation is usually based on the features that are typically more prominent and well defined in the males as compared to those found in the females (Rai et al, 2007). It is possible to exploit this differentiation for the purposes of identification.

Vodanovic et al (2006) suggests along with others that the mandible of the male is more robust and defined, in other terms chiselled, than that of the female (as illustrated in figure 3). In a Brazilian study conducted by Suazo et al (2009), they noted that the mandible of a female (especially in children) appears filed, smooth to the touch and look and had an overall general small dimensions when measured. Franklin et al (2007), Johnson et al (1990) and Naccarato & John (2008) all noted that the dimensions of the male mandible is considerably larger and longer especially in the length and height of the mandible body. In addition, male mandibles typically have squarer chins and thicker, rougher muscle attachments than female mandibles as illustrated in Figure 4.

As useful as this type of method can be, to the untrained eye, the difference is not as easy to spot by simply having a look, as Taylor et al (1984) noted, the details of the mandible are often minuscule and differ in depending on the population. Therefore, the discrimination function analysis is adjusted depending on the location and origin of the remains. For example, when dealing with remains found in Africa the equation used for gender calculations will differ from those used for remains found in the Asian community. Therefore, as many human features differ extensively within any population, it is more difficult (often impossible) to identify the sex from a mandible without prior knowledge of the population from which it originated (Franklin et al, 2007).


As previously mentioned the mandible can also be used to determine race and ancestry, in order to identify which racial group the remains originate from. Because of the continental differences in our appearance due to genetics and ancestry, our skeletal frame also differs, and in this case, the mandible is unique to each racial group (Pickering, 2005). Byers (2008) noted that the Asian population have a more "vertically orientated ascending ramus of the mandible", meaning that the Asian community have a rounded mandible that possess a slight upturn at the chin. Whilst the mandible of the Caucasoid is more pointed and narrow especially in the chin region as compared to the Negroid mandible, which is far blunter and flatter (Pickering, 2005).

Lady using a tablet
Lady using a tablet


Writing Services

Lady Using Tablet

Always on Time

Marked to Standard

Order Now

Rhine (1990) recognises that although the mandible can "present useful arthroscopic characteristics for distinguishing the three main ancestral groups" there are also a number of factors that can help in the assessment of racial background or ancestry, such as using other areas of the cranium.

In addition, McCusker (2007) noted, there is retention of the metopic suture, which is a common trait in the Caucasoid population (illustrated in Figure 6). The suture is usually present in the foetus as the cranial bones are forming, but usually becomes obliterated (disappears) as the cranium fully develops in the Mongoloid and Negroid population, however, remains in the Caucasoid mandible. The presentation of this suture can also serve as confirmation of the mandible belonging to the Caucasoid family.

uck & Vidarsdottir (2004) acknowledged the importance of forensic anthropology as a form of human identification, however, they noted that techniques which are used to determine race of adult remains is less certain and accurate in children.


Anthropologists have found that certain features are specific to individuals among a population (in gender and race). Anthropometry takes measurements of bones, in this case the mandible, and compares them to charted measurements to determine which gender or race the remains could belong to. This can be difficult to study in detail because of the natural variations that occur within a population (Balci et al, 2005). The measurements taken from the mandible are compared with reference measurements stored on the FORDISC database, a database created by Ousley & Jantz (2005). The program compares "potential profiles of data contained in the database of skeletal measurements of modern humans" with the sample, a determination is made on what the gender or ancestry could be based on the typical measurements of that particular population (Burris & Harris, 1998). At this stage, a discrimination function analysis is applied, this involves applying a reliable equation to the particular bone in question (the mandible), taking into consideration the method should be applied to identical or very similar populations (Ramsthaler et al, 2007).


According to Suazo et al (2009) to determine the gender of immature or children's skeletal remains, the hip, mandible and teeth are the most reliable and useful elements to use in order to obtain accurate results. However, Suazo observed that all these elements must be used in conjunction with each other and determination cannot be based on one factor solely. In this case, the results from the metric & morphological examination of the mandible must be regarded as an additional identification tool.

It is also important to note the limitations in identifying a skeleton as male or female using only the mandible, as it can often differ between the races. For example, the Caucasoid is perceived to have a medium mandible, whilst the Mongoliod has a robust mandible, in this case, the skeleton can be mistaken and misidentified as a male skeleton, because of it strong mandible if race is not taken into account. (McCusker, 2007). In addition, the mandible in the Negroid population is described as being gracile, which is a normally a typical feature for a female skeleton. As mentioned earlier, it is important to note these racial variations, as if they are not taken into account, it is easy to misclassify the skeletal remains as a wrong gender. Therefore Loth & Henneberg (2001) suggests, the mandible can only be used in conjunction with other anthropological features (e.g. pelvis and cranium) to fully ascertain the gender or race. However, in the cases where only the mandible is found, it can be used to indicate the likelihood of being male or female and to which race it belongs.

In addition, it is important to consider the limitations of natural occurrences that may affect or alter correct identification using only the mandible, such as hereditary over-grown jaw (mandibular prognathism). As the medical history of the skeletal remains are often unknown, it is possible to misidentify the remains due to mandibular prognathism and even countering surgery for prominent mandible (as illustrated in figure 8) (Naccarato, 2008).


The mandible contributes immensely to the determination of sex and ancestry. Winson (2004) suggests that "direct observation of certain features help in the preliminary identification", however in order to confirm sex or race, a number of other measurements must be taken of the skull and pelvis, if available.


  • Balci, Y., Yavuz, M.F. and Cagdir. (2005) Predictive Accuracy of Sexing the Mandible by Ramus Flexure. Journal of Comparative Human Biology. Volume 55, Issue 3, 28 February 2005. Pages 229-237.
  • Buck, T.J., Vidarsdottir, U.S. (2004) A Proposal Method for the Identification of Race in Sub-Adult Skeletons: A Geometric Morphometric analysis of Mandibular Morphology. Journal of Forensic Science. Volume 49, Issue 6. November 2004. Pages 1159-1164.
  • Burris, B.G., Harris, E.F. (1998) Identification of Race and Sex from Palate Dimensions. Journal of Forensic Science. Volume 43, Issue 5. September 1998. Pages 959-963.
  • Byers, S.N. (2008) Introduction to Forensic Anthropology. Pearson. 3rd Edition. Pages 152-175, 431-432.
  • Franklin, D., Oxnard, C.E., O'Higgins, P., and Dadour, I. (2007) Sexual Dimorphism in the Subadult Mandible: Quantification Using Geometric Morphometrics. Journal of Forensic Science. Volume 52, Pages 6-10. 2007
  • Hu, K.S., Koh, K.S., Han, S.H., Shin, K.J. and Kim, K.J. (2006) Sex Determination Using Nonmetric Characteristics of the Mandible in Koreans. Journal of Forensic Sciences. Volume 51, Issue 6. November 2006. Pages 1376-1382.
  • Johnson, D.R., O'Higgins, P., Moore, W.J., McAndrew, T.J. (1990) Determination of Race & Sex of the Human Skull by Discriminant Function Analysis of Linear & Angular Dimensions-An Appendix. Forensic Science International. Volume 5, Issue ½. March 1990. Pages 1-3.
  • Kemkes-Grottenthaler, A., Löbig, F. and Stock, F. (2002) Mandibular Ramus Flexure and Gonial Eversion as Morphologic Indicators of Sex. Journal of Comparative Human Biology. Volume 53, Issue, 2002. Pages 97-111
  • Krogman, W.M. (1962) Human Skeleton: Forensic Osteology. Charles C Thomas Publisher, Springfield, Illinois. Pages 86-144
  • Loth, S.R. and Henneberg, M. (2001) Sexually Dimorphic Mandibular Morphology in the First Few Years of Life. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Volume 115, Issue 1. Pages 113-125.
  • McCusker, S. (2007) Forensic Anthropology. Life Sciences Lecture. Department of Crime & Policing Studies. Canterbury Christ Church University. Kent.
  • Naccarato, S.L., John, G.L. (2008) Skull Features as Clues to Age, Sex, Race & Lifestyle. Journal of Forensic Identification. Volume 58, Issue 2. Pages 172-181.
  • Oettle, A.C., Pretorius, E. and Steyn, M. (2009) Geometric Morphometric Analysis of the Use of Mandibular Gonial Eversion in Sex Determination. Journal of Comparative Human Biology: Volume 60, Issue 1, January 2009. Pages 29-43.
  • Ousley, S.D., Jantz, R.L. (2002) Social Races and Human Populations: Why Forensic Anthropology are good at identifying Races. [Abstract] American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Suppl 34:121
  • Ousley, S.D., Jantz, R.L. (1992) The Forensic Databank: Some Results After 5 Years & 1000 Cases. [Abstract]. The Proceedings of the American Academy of Forensic Science. 44th Annual Meeting. Page 164.
  • Pickering, R., Bachman, D. (2005) The Use of Forensic Anthropology. CRC Press. Second Edition. Pages 82-84, 103-111.
  • Rai, B., Anand, S., Madan, M. and Dharwal. S. (2007) Criteria for Determination of Sex from Mandible. The Internet Journal of Dental Science. Volume4, Issue. Pages
  • Ramsthaler, F., Kreutz, K. and Verhoff, M.A. (2007) Accuracy of Metric Sex Analysis of Skeletal Remains Using FORDISC® Based on a Recent Skull Collection. International Journal of Legal Medicine. Volume 21, Number 6. November 2007. Pages 447-482.
  • Suazo, G.I.C., Zavando, M.D.A. and Smith, R.L. (2009) Sex Determination in Mandibles in the First Year of Life by Quantitative Approach. International Journal of Morphology. Volume 27, Issue 1. 2009. Pages 113-116.
  • Taylor, J.V., DiBennardo, R., Linares, G.H., Goldman, A.D., and DeForest, P.R. (1984) Metropolitan Forensic Anthropology Team (MFAT) Studies in Identification. Race & Sex Assessment by Discriminant Function Analysis of the Postcranial Skeleton. Journal of Forensic Science. Volume 29, Issue 3. 1984. Page 798.
  • Vodanovic, M., Dumancic, J., Demo. Z., and Mihelic, D. (2006) Determination of Sex by Discriminant Function Analysis of Mandibles From two Croatian Archaeological Sites. The Online Acta Stomatologica Croatica. Volume 4, Number 3. September 2006


  • The ID Hospital, (2008). Contouring Surgery of Prominent Mandible. Available at: Accessed on the 10th December 2009.
  • The University of Dundee. (No Date) Forensic Anthropology Definition. Available at: Accessed on 2nd December 2009.
  • Wikipedia, (2009) The Mandible Picture. Available online at: Accessed on 10th December 2009.
  • Winson, T. (2004) Forensic Anthropology: The Forensic Anthropologist. Available at: Accessed on 9th December 2009.


  • Suazo, G.I.C., Zavando, M.D.A. and Smith, R.L. (2008) Evaluating Accuracy and Precision in Morphologic Traits for Sexual Dimorphism in Malnutrition Human Skull: A Comparative Study. International Journal if Morphology. Volume 26, Issue 4. 2008. Pages 941-944
Lady using a tablet
Lady using a tablet

This Essay is

a Student's Work

Lady Using Tablet

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Examples of our work