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Estimation and Evidence in Forensic Anthropology: Age-at-Death

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A great deal has previously been written about the use of skeletal morphological changes in estimating ages-at-death. This article looks in particular at the pubic symphysis, as it was historically one of the first regions to be described in the literature on age estimation. Despite the lengthy history, the value of the pubic symphysis in estimating ages and in providing evidence for putative identifications remains unclear. This lack of clarity primarily stems from the fact that rather ad hoc statistical methods have been applied in previous studies. This article presents a statistical analysis of a large data set (n = 1766) of pubic symphyseal scores from multiple contexts, including anatomical collections, war dead, and victims of genocide. The emphasis is in finding statistical methods that will have the correct “coverage.”“Coverage” means that if a method has a stated coverage of 50%, then approximately 50% of the individuals in a particular pubic symphyseal stage should have ages that are between the stated age limits, and that approximately 25% should be below the bottom age limit and 25% above the top age limit. In a number of applications it is shown that if an appropriate prior age-at-death distribution is used, then “transition analysis” will provide accurate “coverages,” while percentile methods, range methods, and means (┬▒standard deviations) will not. Even in cases where there are significant differences in the mean ages-to-transition between populations, the effects on the stated age limits for particular “coverages” are minimal. As a consequence, more emphasis needs to be placed on collecting data on age changes in large samples, rather than focusing on the possibility of inter-population variation in rates of aging.
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Keywords: forensic science; likelihood ratio; probit analysis; pubic symphysis

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: University of Illinois, Department of Anthropology, 109 Davenport Hall, 607 South Matthews Avenue, Urbana, IL 61801. 2: University of Tennessee, Department of Anthropology, 250 South Stadium Hall, Knoxville, TN 37996. 3: University of Missouri, Department of Anthropology, 107 Swallow Hall, Columbia, MO 65211. 4: University of South Florida, Department of Anthropology, Soc 107, 4202 E. Fowler, Tampa, FL 33620.

Publication date: 2008-05-01

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