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Age Estimation Using Thoracic and First Two Lumbar Vertebral Ring Epiphyseal Union

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Union of the vertebral centra or “ring” epiphyses occurs during adolescence and early adulthood, providing valuable age at death information. We present a system for estimating age based on the timing and pattern of vertebral ring union. Data from 57 known individuals aged 14–27 years were used to establish age ranges for various patterns of union in females and males. Female age ranges were more well defined with less overlap in patterns of union than male age ranges. The age ranges are accompanied by descriptions of the stages of union observed that aid in applying this method. A test of interobserver error in scoring stages of union demonstrated strong consistency among three observers (r = 0.91–0.97). Estimating age by observing all stages documented resulted in 78%, 88%, and 100% accuracies using vertebral data alone. We encourage the continued use of this method, in conjunction with other age indicators.
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Keywords: age determination; age estimation; epiphyseal fusion; epiphyseal union; forensic anthropology; forensic science; skeletal growth; skeletal maturation; vertebrae

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina Wilmington, 601 S. College Road, Wilmington, NC 28403-5907. 2: Department of Anthropology, Fort Lewis College, 1000 Rim Drive, Durango, CO 81301. 3: FBI Laboratory Division, Counterterrorism and Forensic Science Research Unit FBI Academy, Building 12, Quantico, VA 22135. 4: Department of Statistical Sciences and Operations Research, Virginia Commonwealth University, 821 W. Franklin Street, Richmond,VA 23284.

Publication date: March 1, 2010

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