Techniques Used In Estimating The Age Architecture Essay


Forensic anthropologists are experienced in the identification of human remains. One of the first questions to be asked upon the discovery of skeletal remains is are they of a human or animal? Once the origin of the bones has been established it then has to be determined as to whether the remains are of forensic or archaeological provenance. The customary time he lapsed since death should be less than 70 years if it is to be classed as a forensic case. This is due to the fact that if the remains are discovered after 70 years it will be harder to bring an individual to justice or a reliable witness being found. (Scheuer 2002)

The use of Osteological material in a forensic case is particularly useful during the identification process of fragmented or disarticulated remains. Age is just one of the four main biological attributes used in the identification of skeletal remains. (Zioupos et al 2004). All must be considered independently initially before combining or attributes in order of obtaining possible identification. The four main attributes of biological identity that most forensic anthropologists paper to determine are age, sex, stature and ethnic background. The accuracy of these depend primarily on which a particular elements of the body are present and also the state of preservation of the remains. The accuracy of identification also varies according to whether the individual is an adult or a juvenile.

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The estimation of age at death of adult skeletal remains is one of the more difficult tasks undertaken by physical anthropologists. (Buckberry and Chamberlain 2002)

Determining age at death

Age related changes in the skeleton may reflect three different phases of the lifespan; growth and development, stability and senescence. The first phase is represented by children and young adults, who undergo changes that proceed at a reasonably predictable rate in a well documented pattern. Once growth has ceased at changes in adult patterns even within a single skeletons vary greatly and are more individual and population specific. They are also affected by factors such as health status occupation and nutrition. In addition most of the methods used in adult aging rely on methods developed from large archaeological samples of all known sex and age.

Aging in adults can be carried out using teeth, suture closure and the auricular surface of the Ilium. Morphological changes of the auricular surfaces of the illium provide excellent age indicators for adult remains. This surface undergoes regular progressive changes from age 18 onwards. Using the standard aging phase set out by Todd (1920) it is possible to ascertain an age range of +- 10 years. Using the sutures of the skull it is also possible to estimate age in adults. This is done using a scoring system set out by Meindl and Lovejoy (1985). These sutures fuse together at different times during life. Another method is using the wear on teeth; primarily it is easier to use the molars. This is because once the permanent teeth have erupted they start to wear. These wear patterns are caused when chewing and diet. Also wear can be contributed to by grinding teeth. These standards are set out by Lovejoy (1985) also give a range of +- 10 years. There is also another method for aging using teeth which is using root transparency set out by Lamendin et al (1992).

Yet again because of the fragmentation of the bones it is not always possible to age them. Aging juveniles is a little easier as juvenile bones fuse together at the epiphysis at different stages in growth and development. Also in juveniles it is possible to age then using the eruption of teeth.

The Auricular surface of the Ilium

Buckberry and Chamberlain (2002) based their methods of aging using the Auricular surface of the Ilium on a method that was first set out by Lovejoy Et Al (1985). This method was used to record age related stages for different features of the Auricular surface. Which are then combined to provide a composite score from which an estimation of age at death is obtained. Lovejoy described eight modal age stages into which the Auricular surface could be placed using these primary aging features. However the separate features of the Auricular surface described by Lovejoy Et Al (1985) such as porosity, surface texture, and marginal changes appear to develop independently of each other. The age of onset for each stage of the different features of the Auricular surface appear to vary, and as a consequence the five year age categories of Lovejoy Et Al (1985) tend to overlap. Early appearing features still present on the Auricular surface of older individuals were described by Lovejoy Et Al (1985) as "residual". The fact that this variation that can occur within a single regular surface indicates that this method oversimplifies the changes seen, and that the five year interval in various schemes of age estimation may be optimistically to narrow. This problem and contributes to the difficulty found when applying this method as it leads to uncertainty and in some cases confusion in assigning individual Auricular surfaces two a particular age stage.

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In view of these problems Buckberry and Chamberlain (2002) revised the method set out by Lovejoy Et Al (1985).  Each feature of the Auricular surface was examined individually. This system will make it easier to apply and accommodate the overlap are often seen between different stages. It utilised all the changes seen in the Auricular surface as used by Lovejoy Et Al (1985). The method used by Buckberry and Chamberlain (2002) rather than being grouped together with all the features into five year modal age stages. The revised Auricular surface method of age estimation allows for a more realistic interpretation of the changes. Although the age estimates produced by this method are wider, this method is easier to apply and may be more reliable than that of Lovejoy Et Al (1985).

The pubic symphysis

The pubic symphyses have importance in the field of forensic anthropology, as they can be used to estimate the age of adult skeletons. Throughout life, the surfaces of the pubic symphysis are worn at a more or less predictable rate. By examining the wear of the pubic symphysis, it is possible to estimate the age of the person at death.

Up to the age of 40 years the morphology of the ventral Demiface of the pubic symphysis undergoes a prolonged period of age related change, and can therefore be used in age estimation using component phase analysis (Suchey 1979; Brooks and Suchey 1990).

The morphological features on the symphyseal surface used in determining age of an individual are ridges and furrows, dorsal margin, ventral bevelling, lower extremity, ossific nodule, ventral rampart, dorsal plateau and symphyseal rim (Sinha and Gupta 1995)


Estimating the age in juveniles is a relatively difficult thing to do. Juvenile age is reliant on the epiphyseal fusion of the joints; the determination of the number of erupted teeth might contribute to the estimation of age at death as well as to the identification procedure of unknown skeletons.

During the development and growth the skeleton undergoes a sequence of changes beginning with the formation and eruption of deciduous teeth and their replacement with permanent dentition this process is usually completed excluding the third molars by about the age of 12. Although the timing of this can vary a little depending on sex, race, and health factors. Age at death in juveniles can usually be estimated to within 1year if the appropriate standards are used.

Several methods of dental age assessment in non-adults have been used: the atlas method of Schour and Massler (1940), the diagram of Gustafson and Koch (1974). For the purpose of this work the specific set by Ubelaker (1989) will be used. A new method for aging juveniles using tooth eruption is a comprehensive evidence based atlas which can be used to estimate age using both tooth development and alveolar eruption for individuals between 28 weeks in utero up to 23 years; the main difference between this method and the method set out by Ubelaker (1989) is that it shows developmental ages without gaps or overlaps AlQahtani et al (2009).


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AlQahtani S J, H M Liversidge, M P Hector (2009). Atlas of human toothdevelopment and eruption. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. (In print).

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