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A forensic anthropologist can tell a lot about a person from bones:

They can determine if the person was a male or female. This is
determined by studying the pelvis, base of the skull, the forehead,
and the jaw. Males usually have a more prominent brow ridge,
eyesockets, and jaw. Women have a wider pelvis. They are able
to approximate how old the person was by examining the joints,
bones, and teeth. A child’s skull has more separation between the
bone plates.

The smoother the skull, the older the person. The examination of
wrist development for children under thirteen is another reliable
method of determining age. For most bones, the estimation of age
works best if the victim is under age 30.
Growth and decline are the two fundamental processes
that occur in a human being’s life. Hence Forensic
anthropologists use these two processes in estimating a
person's age at the time of death. Growth and
developmental changes are based largely on the degree
and location of bone growth and dental formation and
eruption from the gums in immature individuals.
At birth, our "bones" are mostly soft cartilage. As we grow, this
cartilage is replaced by hard bone at different centers of growth.
There are over 300 centers of bone growth in infants which eventually
fuse to form the 206 bones in the adult body.
Ossification occurs in around 800 points around the body, in which
separate pieces of bone fuse together. As the bones fuse together,
sutures are formed in between them, appearing as ‘zigzag seams’.
The fusion of particular bones generally occurs at specific points in an
individual’s life, making them invaluable in age determination.
Since the centres grow and fuse at known rates, anthropologists can
use the pattern to estimate age in children and subadults (fetal, infant,
child, adolescent).
a. Bone at wrist
As shown below, certain sections of cartilage around the body gradually turn
into bone over time, again usually at a particular age. For example, at birth the
wrists are composed of cartilage, eventually forming into bone at a later date.
If the victim is under the age of 13, a wrist x-ray can often pinpoint the child’s
age within a few months.

Developmental stage differences between

(from left to right) 6 months, 6 years, and 8
years of age . Notice the appearance of little
bones at the end of longer bones in the
middle and right photo: as we get older, these
will fuse together to form a single bone. At
around the age of 6, two bone plates form at
either end of the radius bone in the arm. The
lower bone plate fuses with the radius years
later, at age 17 in males and age 20 in
females. The upper bone plate follows shortly
after. The appearance and fusion of these
bones helps anthropologists determine the
person's age.
b. Bone at knee

The fusing of the epiphysis (rounded end) of a bone to the

diaphysis (bone shaft) are similar indicators of age.

This is an x-ray of a young person's knee. Notice This is an x-ray of an adult knee. The
the lines between the longer shafts of the bone white area where the growth plates have
(the diaphyses) and the tips (the epiphyses). been turned into bone is represented by the
During childhood and the teenage years, the white lines. These areas are the epiphyseal
diaphysis and epiphysis will fuse together as lines.
shown in the figure on the right hand side.
c. Joints and Pelvis
By the late-20s however, bone growth is complete and
age at death must be estimated from degenerative
changes in the body. Joints are particularly prone to
deterioration and a common area to use for age
estimation is the pelvis. At the front of the pelvis, where
the two halves meet above the pubic area, is a joint called
the pubic symphysis. The pubic symphysis is the joint
where the two halves of the pelvis meet at the centerline
of the body, joined by a layer of fibrocartilage.
This joint undergoes consistent changes over the course of a
person's lifetime that can be used to indicate physiological age.

Young bone is very robust, with a series of horizontal

ridges and grooves. Over time, the bone changes from
ridged and furrowed to flat and smooth with a fine
grained texture.
Margins build up at the edges to form a rim and a
plateau develops in the center of the symphyseal
surface at approximately age 35 (phase IV).
After this, the surface erodes to become pitted and
porous, and the shape becomes irregular. For the
majority of the population, these changes occur at
predictable age ranges, allowing an osteologist to
estimate the age of an adult victim at the time of
The photo from the side illustrates the extreme
differences in the symphyseal surface over time.
Developmental changes to the pubic
The bone on the left is from a young person of
symphysis, over six stages (I-VI) from approximately 20 years of age. The bone on the right
younger (on left) to older (on right). is from an older person of over 60 years of age.
Teeth develop and erupt in a specific sequence at specific times during
childhood and this timing can also be used to provide an accurate estimate of
age in juveniles.
In particularly elderly individuals, worn teeth, signs of bone degeneration,
arthritis, osteoporosis (increased bone porosity), and similar diseases can
indicate old age. However the level of wear of teeth can be influenced by
diet and cultural practices, so this should be taken into consideration. On the
other hand, if dentures or other false teeth are found in or near the remains,
this is a further sign of an elderly victim.
Tooth eruption can prove particularly beneficial in determining age,
particularly in younger individuals. The presence of deciduous teeth, also
known as milk teeth, suggests the victim is an infant or child, as these teeth
tend to be lost by around age 12. Similarly, the lack of wisdom teeth
indicates the victim is under the age of 18. The eruption and loss of specific
teeth tend to occur at particular ages. By studying these teeth, it is often
possible to pinpoint the age of the victim quite accurately. Below is a list
detailing the age at which each tooth tends to erupt.
Primary (Milk) Teeth

Secondary (Permanent) Teeth:

Central Incisor: 8-12 months Central Incisor: 7-8 years
Lateral Incisor: 9-13 months Lateral Incisor: 8-9 years
Canine: 16-22 months Canine: 11-12 years
First Molar: 13-19 months First premolar: 10-11 years
Second molar: 25-33 months Second premolar: 10-12 years
First molar: 6-7 years
Lower: Second molar: 12-13 years
Central Incisor: 6-10 months Third molar (wisdom tooth): 17-21 years
Lateral Incisor: 10-16 months
Canine: 17-23 months Lower:
First Molar: 14-18 months Central Incisor: 6-7 years
Second Molar: 23-31 months Lateral Incisor: 7-8 years
Canine: 9-10 years
First premolar: 10-12 years
Second premolar: 11-12 years
First molar: 6-7 years
Second molar: 11-13 years
Third molar (wisdom tooth): 17-21 years
Though not particularly accurate, cranial sutures (on the skull) can aid
age determination if no other methods are suitable. At birth, the
human skull is composed of numerous smaller bone segments, their
division giving the skull flexibility.
As the individual ages, ossification occurs, fusing the separate pieces
together. It is the extent to which this fusion has occurred that is useful
in age estimation, provided the victim is under approximately 30
years old, after which ossification of skull bones is usually complete.
Hence, a child’s skull has more separation between the bone plates.
The smoother the skull, the older the person.
Another way to determine age is by looking at the development
of the sutures:

The adult skull has no

remaining suture (called
the frontal suture) in the
middle of the Frontal
bone. All the sutures
ultimately become more
filled-in ("closed") as we

Adolescent skull Adult skull

Osetons are minute tunnels within the bone housing nerves and nutrient-providing blood vessels.
They are the chief structural unit of compact (cortical) bone, consisting of concentric bone layers
called lamellae, which surround a long hollow passageway, the Haversian canal.
The Haversian canal contains small blood vessels responsible for the blood supply to osteocytes
(individual bone cells).
Osteons are several millimetres long and about 0.2 millimetre (0.008 inch) in diameter; they tend
to run parallel to the long axis of a bone.
Osteons are formations characteristic of mature bone and take shape during the process of bone
remodeling, or renewal. New bone may also take this structure as it forms.

In general, the more osteons

present in the bone, the older
the victim.
A forensic anthropologist can use multiple skeletal characteristics to determine the age of a victim
at the time of death. Some characteristics can only be used to determine the age of pre-pubescent
victims while some are applied to adult victims only as shown below.

Pre-pubescent: The skeletons of children and Adult: Due to the lack of growth in the post-
teenagers are in a constant state of flux. pubescent years, age determination of adults is
1. Infant fontanelles close with the union of slightly more difficult, but there are several very
cranial bones. valuable characteristics.

2. Long bones are constantly growing, 1.The surface of the pubic symphysis (where the two
allowing for increased limb length. halves of the pelvis meet at the front of the body)
changes significantly over time, with those changes
3. The growth plate of long bones is continuing into the senior years.
constantly laying down new bone until
maturity is reached; at this point, the end of 2. Similar changes are seen at the auricular surface
the bone fuses to the shaft, terminating of the ilium (the hip bone).
3. The medial rib ends (at the center of the body,
4. Teeth are lost and new teeth form and where the ribs join with the sternum) also change with
erupt in their place. age, both the surface of the bone as well as the

4. The sutures in the skull and palate finally fuse,

and, with time, become completely obliterated.
In general, anthropologists do not determine the gender
of an individual, but personal effects and cultural
materials may suggest a person's gender identification.
The hormonal and visual differences that make living
males and females distinct also create physiological
differences between their skeletons. This "sexual
dimorphism" is most obvious in the pelvic bones and the
The differences in the pelvis are largely the result of evolutionary and functional constraints. All
humans are adapted to walking on two legs, but females must also give birth to relatively large-
headed babies. These different pressures produce structural differences between males and
females that can be used to tell them apart.

1. The female pelvis is larger and broader than the male pelvis which is taller
(owing to a higher iliac crest), narrower, and more compact.

2. The distance between the ischium bones is small in males. This causes the
sides of the male pelvis to converge from the inlet to the outlet, whereas the
sides of the female pelvis are wider apart. This results in the female inlet being
large and oval in shape, while the male inlet is more heart-shaped.

3. The angle between the inferior pubic rami is acute (70 degrees) in men, but
obtuse (90-100 degrees) in women. Accordingly, the angle is called the
subpubic angle in men and pubic arch in women.

4. The greater sciatic notch is wider in females.

5. The ischial spines and tuberosities are heavier and project farther into the
pelvic cavity in males.

6. The male sacrum is long, narrow, straighter, and has a pronounced sacral
promontory. The female sacrum is shorter, wider, more curved posteriorly, and has
a less pronounced promontory.

7. The acetabula are wider apart and face more medially in females than in
males. This change in the angle of the femoral head gives the female gait its
characteristic (i.e. swinging of hips).
This table outlines the differences between a
male and female pelvis.

Male Female
 narrower, heart-  open, circular
shaped pelvic pelvic inlet
 narrower sciatic  broader sciatic
notch notch
 narrower angle  wider angle
where the two where the two
pubic bones meet pubic bones meet
in front in front
 more outwardly
flared hip bones
The skull also displays a degree of sexual dimorphism.
Overall, males tend to have larger skulls than females.
They also have, on average, greater muscle development
and more rugged muscle attachments. These differences in
size and robusticity can help determine whether an
individual is male or female.
2. THE SKULL Male and Female Cranium Differences

Most important skull differences between men and

women are indicated by the letter value on the figure
to the left and described below:

A) The mans cranial mass is more blocky and massive

compared to the females which is rounder and
tapers at the top.

B) Temporal Ridge - runs along the outer side of the

upper skull creating the square shaped of the
upper head. More prominent in men than women.

C) A woman's supraorbital margin (the ridge above

the eyes) is sharper, while the males is rather round
and dull.

D) The Zygomatic bone (the cheekbone that lies under

the lower eye ridge) is more pronounced on the
male skull.
E) The Mandible (lower jaw) bone of a woman
is rounded, while the male's is squared.

F) Frontal bone – forehead structure terminates

at the brow. The male forehead is lower and
more slopping.

G) Men have a deeper cranial mass and larger

cranium by about 10% to that of a female.

H) The supercilary arch is large and

pronounced in the man.

A males gonion (most posterior inferior point on

angle of mandible) is more flared out and
sharply angled.

J) The teeth of men tend to be larger.

Cranium Feature Male Female
Frontal bone (forehead) lower and sloping more vertical and rounded
Temporal Ridge large small
Bony superciliary arches (browridges) prominent absent or slight
Mastoid process (bone behind the ear) large small *
Supraorbital margin (ridge above eye) rounded sharp

External occipital protuberance (protrusion on lower

generally present generally absent
back of the cranium)

Nuchal crest (low ridge along the back base of the

rugged smoother, even absent
Zygomatic process (cheek bones) extends past external does not *
Mandible (jaw) larger and more robust smaller and lighter

Symphysis and mental eminence of mandible (chin) square rounded *

Ramus of mandible (back of jaw bone) straight slanting

Mandible gonion and gonion angle (back corner of
flaring and sharply angled less so
jaw bone)
Sinuses (air ways) larger smaller
Teeth larger smaller

Cranium deeper and larger by about 10% smaller

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