Estimating Age in Forensic Anthropology

A special issue of Forensic Sciences (ISSN 2673-6756).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 March 2023) | Viewed by 25036

Special Issue Editors


E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Sociology and Anthropology, College of Arts and Sciences, University of La Verne, 1950 Third Street, La Verne, CA 91750, USA
Interests: transition analysis; age and sex estimation; Americas; osteoporosis; biological distance; Nubia; Egypt

E-Mail Website
Co-Guest Editor
Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, 590 Moffet Street, Building 4077, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, HI 96853, USA
Interests: sex estimation; age estimation; forensic anthropology; positive identification

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Estimating age at death is one of the most important elements of the biological profile for identifying an individual in forensic contexts. The 1993 Daubert v. Merrill Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. decision (509 U.S. 579) greatly impacted forensic anthropology by necessitating rigorous testing, evaluation, and calculation of error rates, among other important standards. Despite the subsequent development of techniques on skeletal indicators and the application of statistics in skeletal analysis, estimating age at death from the skeleton still has room for improvement, particularly at older ages. This issue aims to cover a variety of topics related to estimation of age at death from a wide range of authors, in order to capture a diversity of perspectives on the topic, which will elevate knowledge on the subject. Manuscripts focusing on the following and related topics are welcome in this Special Issue:

  1. Introduction or revision of age at death estimation on new and old skeletal indicators;
  2. Improvement/application of statistical applications to age at death estimation;
  3. Theoretical pieces on the state of estimation of age at death in forensic anthropology;
  4. Testing of established age at death estimation methods on different populations;
  5. Reporting of accuracies for established age at death methods.

Dr. Kanya Godde
Dr. Rebecca Taylor
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

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Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1000 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • age estimation
  • transition analysis
  • pubic symphysis
  • bone mineral density

Published Papers (11 papers)

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Research

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6 pages, 229 KiB  
Communication
Sternal Rib Ends as a Method of Age Estimation at the CIL: A Brief Note
by Alexander F. Christensen
Forensic Sci. 2023, 3(4), 576-581; https://doi.org/10.3390/forensicsci3040041 - 9 Nov 2023
Viewed by 1762
Abstract
This communication reports the relationship between skeletal age estimates based on the sternal rib ends (using the phase method of İşcan and colleagues, later revised by Hartnett) and the chronological age at the death of 221 U.S. military casualties processed by the Scientific [...] Read more.
This communication reports the relationship between skeletal age estimates based on the sternal rib ends (using the phase method of İşcan and colleagues, later revised by Hartnett) and the chronological age at the death of 221 U.S. military casualties processed by the Scientific Analysis section of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency and its predecessor laboratories from 2000 to the present. Previously published age ranges for each phase do not provide accurate estimates for a sufficient proportion of the cases for forensic use; as an example, the age ranges that accompany reference cast sets proved accurate for 55% of CIL cases. Combining the published age ranges of İşcan and Hartnett, on the other hand, proved accurate in 99% of the cases. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Estimating Age in Forensic Anthropology)
11 pages, 1270 KiB  
Article
Comparing Traditional Age Estimation at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency to Age Estimation Using Random Forest Regression
by Kyle A. McCormick
Forensic Sci. 2023, 3(2), 273-283; https://doi.org/10.3390/forensicsci3020020 - 19 Apr 2023
Viewed by 1220
Abstract
Age estimation from developmental traits is typically assessed in isolation, where an age range is derived from known individuals that exhibit that degree of fusion. There are no objective means for incorporating developmental evidence from multiple areas of the skeleton into one cohesive [...] Read more.
Age estimation from developmental traits is typically assessed in isolation, where an age range is derived from known individuals that exhibit that degree of fusion. There are no objective means for incorporating developmental evidence from multiple areas of the skeleton into one cohesive age estimate. This limitation is obvious in the casework at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), where subjectivity is introduced into age estimates based on multiple age indictors. This holds true even when age is derived from one source, The 1957 study by McKern and Stewart). This study uses 388 individuals from the McKern and Stewart study and 41 individuals from the Battle of Tarawa and uses Random Forest Regression (RFR) to estimate an age interval using multiple age indicators. These RFR estimates are compared to age estimates from the Forensic Anthropology Reports (FARs). Overall, FAR age estimates are more accurate (92.7%) than those from the two RFR models (80.5% and 76.6%). This increase in accuracy comes at the cost of some precision (FARs average age interval of 8.1 years and RFR average age intervals of 6.3 and 6.4 years). The RFR models prefer age indicators with late fusion, such as the medial clavicle, and the pubic symphysis, which exhibit a combination of developmental and degenerative ages in morphology. Some avenues for further research are discussed. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Estimating Age in Forensic Anthropology)
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26 pages, 7381 KiB  
Article
Utility of Osteoarthritis as an Indicator of Age in Human Skeletal Remains: Validating the Winburn and Stock (2019) Method
by Ariana N. Strasheim, Allysha P. Winburn and Michala K. Stock
Forensic Sci. 2023, 3(2), 205-230; https://doi.org/10.3390/forensicsci3020016 - 29 Mar 2023
Viewed by 1919
Abstract
In forensic anthropology, and biological anthropology more broadly, age estimation is a crucial element of the biological profile. The development of osteoarthritis (OA) is correlated with age and, in 2019, Winburn and Stock published a method of estimating age in a sample of [...] Read more.
In forensic anthropology, and biological anthropology more broadly, age estimation is a crucial element of the biological profile. The development of osteoarthritis (OA) is correlated with age and, in 2019, Winburn and Stock published a method of estimating age in a sample of 408 white American individuals using OA presence/absence. The current study expanded the original study by testing its accuracy on a more diverse sample, including black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). This served to test whether embodied inequity from lived experiences may preclude the ability of the OA presence/absence method to estimate age at death. This study’s results demonstrated both that the original methodology was validated, and that the approach was accurate at estimating the age of death of BIPOC individuals. Furthermore, this study revealed that the hip and shoulder were highly consistent and reliable and are recommended for use as the strongest indicators of age at death, while the TMJ and ankle performed poorly and should not be used for age estimation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Estimating Age in Forensic Anthropology)
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13 pages, 689 KiB  
Article
Age-at-Death Estimation: Accuracy and Reliability of Common Age-Reporting Strategies in Forensic Anthropology
by Christine Bailey and Giovanna Vidoli
Forensic Sci. 2023, 3(1), 179-191; https://doi.org/10.3390/forensicsci3010014 - 20 Mar 2023
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 3366
Abstract
Forensic anthropologists build a biological profile—consisting of sex, age, population affinity, and stature estimates—to assist medicolegal stakeholders in the identification of unknown human skeletal remains. While adult age-at-death estimations can narrow the pool of potential individuals, a lack of standards, best practices, and [...] Read more.
Forensic anthropologists build a biological profile—consisting of sex, age, population affinity, and stature estimates—to assist medicolegal stakeholders in the identification of unknown human skeletal remains. While adult age-at-death estimations can narrow the pool of potential individuals, a lack of standards, best practices, and consensus among anthropologists for method selection and the production of a final age estimate present significant challenges. The purpose of this research is to identify age-reporting strategies that provide the most accurate and reliable (i.e., low inaccuracy and low bias) adult age-at-death estimates when evaluated considering the total sample, age cohort (20–39; 40–59; 60–79), and sex. Age-reporting strategies in this study were derived from six age-at-death estimation methods and tested on 58 adult individuals (31 males, 27 females) from the UTK Donated Skeletal Collection. An experienced-based estimation strategy was also assessed. A paired-samples t-test was used to determine whether there was a significant difference (p ≤ 0.05) between the mean estimated age and the actual age for all age-reporting strategies. Results show that the most accurate and reliable age-reporting strategy varied if the sample was evaluated as a whole, by age, or by sex. While none of the age-reporting strategies evaluated in this study were consistently the most accurate and reliable for all of the sample categories, the experience-based approach performed well for each group. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Estimating Age in Forensic Anthropology)
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20 pages, 22157 KiB  
Article
The Effects of Physiological Stress on the Accuracy of Age-at-Death Estimation in The Hamann–Todd Collection
by Allyson M. Simon, Colleen M. Cheverko, Melissa A. Clark, Tempest D. Mellendorf and Mark Hubbe
Forensic Sci. 2023, 3(1), 149-168; https://doi.org/10.3390/forensicsci3010012 - 15 Mar 2023
Viewed by 1810
Abstract
Age-at-death estimation is influenced by biological and environmental factors. Physiological stress is intertwined with these factors, yet their impact on senescence and age estimation is unknown. Stature, linear enamel hypoplasia (LEH), and antemortem tooth loss (AMTL) in the Hamann–Todd Osteological Collection (n [...] Read more.
Age-at-death estimation is influenced by biological and environmental factors. Physiological stress is intertwined with these factors, yet their impact on senescence and age estimation is unknown. Stature, linear enamel hypoplasia (LEH), and antemortem tooth loss (AMTL) in the Hamann–Todd Osteological Collection (n = 297) are used to understand whether physiological stress is related to age estimation inaccuracy using transition analysis (TA). Considering the low socioeconomic status of individuals in the collection, it was expected that many people experienced moderate to severe physiological stressors throughout their lives. Of the sample, 44.1% had at least one LEH, but analyses found no relationship between LEH incidence and TA error. There was no association between stature and TA error for males or females. However, females with at least one LEH had significantly shorter statures (t = 2.412, p = 0.009), but males did not exhibit the same pattern (t = 1.498, p = 0.068). Further, AMTL frequency and TA error were related (r = 0.276, p < 0.001). A partial correlation controlling for age-at-death yielded a correlation coefficient of 0.024 (p = 0.684), suggesting that this relationship is mostly explained by age-at-death. These data suggest that age estimation methods are not significantly affected by physiological stress in this sample, but further investigations are needed to understand how these variables relate to skeletal aging. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Estimating Age in Forensic Anthropology)
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24 pages, 7435 KiB  
Article
Exploring Adult Age-at-Death Research in Anthropology: Bibliometric Mapping and Content Analysis
by Vanessa Campanacho and Francisca Alves-Cardoso
Forensic Sci. 2023, 3(1), 125-148; https://doi.org/10.3390/forensicsci3010011 - 8 Mar 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1899
Abstract
Although there are known limited skeletal traits that can be used to estimate age-at-death, an increasing body of literature is addressing this topic. This is particularly true in journals dedicated to forensic anthropology and past population studies. Research has focused mostly on methodological [...] Read more.
Although there are known limited skeletal traits that can be used to estimate age-at-death, an increasing body of literature is addressing this topic. This is particularly true in journals dedicated to forensic anthropology and past population studies. Research has focused mostly on methodological developments, aiming to update and validate age-at-death methods’ accuracy, with recurrent formulation, reformulation, testing, and re-testing of classical methodological approaches in multiple populational datasets and using novel statistical approaches. This paper explores aging research in adults published over the last century, aiming to portray major research agendas and highlight main institutions and co-authorship networks. A comprehensive dataset of bibliometric data from 1225 publications on age-at-death estimation, published between 1890 and October 2022, was used in the analysis. Major results showed that since the 1990s there has been continuous growth in aging research, predominantly by institutions in the United States. However, in the last 2 decades, research contributions from institutions with a wider geographical location were observed. Moreover, the research terms associated with aging are not limited to bone changes. Rather, dental-related changes are major contributors to aging research. Temporal trends suggested changes in research agendas related to terms and institutional co-authorships which may bring more inclusive and accurate-related method developments. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Estimating Age in Forensic Anthropology)
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26 pages, 23499 KiB  
Article
The Composite Method: A Novel, Continuum-Based Approach to Estimating Age from the Female Pubic Symphysis with Particular Relevance to Mature Adults
by Janamarie Truesdell
Forensic Sci. 2023, 3(1), 94-119; https://doi.org/10.3390/forensicsci3010009 - 2 Mar 2023
Viewed by 2549
Abstract
While a myriad of effective techniques exist to aid in symphyseal age estimation for those 40 years and younger, few offer similar levels of efficacy for those beyond that threshold. Through the application of a novel technique, this study sought to determine whether [...] Read more.
While a myriad of effective techniques exist to aid in symphyseal age estimation for those 40 years and younger, few offer similar levels of efficacy for those beyond that threshold. Through the application of a novel technique, this study sought to determine whether a closer inspection of degenerative change may help to improve precision in age estimation for post-epiphyseal adults. Results show that the combination of five distinct areas of interest, plus a correction for density, accurately estimated age 87.75% of the time (averaged amongst four observers [spread: 72–100%]) for a subset of 50 living British females. An adjusted R2 value of 0.85, an RSME value of 5.62 years, and a PCC value of 0.92 also confirmed the trialed technique to be a good predictor of age for the entirety of the larger female sample (n = 533). Low inaccuracy (3.86 years) and Bias (0.69 years) further indicate that a continuum-based approach, without pre-set phases or ranges, such as was utilized by this research holds the potential to be at least as effective as the currently available methodologies but with the added advantage of allowing for increased variation at the individual level. Age estimation by linear regression, or by simple addition, yielded estimation envelopes (intervals) of 22–23 and 24 years, respectively, which remain narrow enough to be forensically useful while still wide enough to maximize accuracy in mature adults. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Estimating Age in Forensic Anthropology)
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39 pages, 8490 KiB  
Article
Subadult Age Estimation Using the Mixed Cumulative Probit and a Contemporary United States Population
by Kyra E. Stull, Elaine Y. Chu, Louise K. Corron and Michael H. Price
Forensic Sci. 2022, 2(4), 741-779; https://doi.org/10.3390/forensicsci2040055 - 10 Nov 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2137
Abstract
The mixed cumulative probit (MCP), a new, flexible algorithm that accommodates a variety of mean and shape parameters in univariate models and conditional dependence/independence in multivariate models, was used to develop subadult age estimation models. Sixty-two variables were collected on computed tomography (CT) [...] Read more.
The mixed cumulative probit (MCP), a new, flexible algorithm that accommodates a variety of mean and shape parameters in univariate models and conditional dependence/independence in multivariate models, was used to develop subadult age estimation models. Sixty-two variables were collected on computed tomography (CT) images of 1317 individuals (537 females and 780 males) aged between birth and 21 years from the United States sample in the Subadult Virtual Anthropology Database (SVAD). Long bone measurements (n = 18), stages of epiphyseal fusion and ossification (n = 28), and stages of dental development of permanent teeth (n = 16) were used in univariate, multivariate, and mixed models and compared using test mean log posterior (TMNLP), root mean squared error (RMSE), and percent accuracy on an independent test sample. Out of the six possible parameter combinations, all combinations were accounted for at least once in the data and conditionally dependent models outperformed the conditionally independent models. Overall, multivariate models exhibited smaller TMNLP and RMSE, and an overall greater stability in the age estimations compared to univariate models across all ages and independent of indicator type. Pre-optimized subadult age estimation models are freely available for immediate application through MCP-S-Age, a graphical user interface. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Estimating Age in Forensic Anthropology)
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14 pages, 1825 KiB  
Article
A Bayesian Approach to Estimating Age from the Auricular Surface of the Ilium in Modern American Skeletal Samples
by Samantha M. Hens and Kanya Godde
Forensic Sci. 2022, 2(4), 682-695; https://doi.org/10.3390/forensicsci2040051 - 19 Oct 2022
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 2228
Abstract
Age estimation from human skeletal remains is a critical component of the biological profile for unidentified decedents. Using a Bayesian approach, we examine two popular methods (Lovejoy–LJ, and Buckberry zand Chamberlain–BC) for estimating age from the auricular surface of the ilium. Ages of [...] Read more.
Age estimation from human skeletal remains is a critical component of the biological profile for unidentified decedents. Using a Bayesian approach, we examine two popular methods (Lovejoy–LJ, and Buckberry zand Chamberlain–BC) for estimating age from the auricular surface of the ilium. Ages of transition are generated from a modern Portuguese skeletal sample (n = 466) and are coupled with an informative prior from historic Spitalfields, London (n = 179) to estimate age in a sample of modern Americans from the Bass Donated collection (n = 639). The Bass collection was challenging to statistically model, potentially due to higher morbidity and mortality characteristics of the central southern United States. The highest posterior density ranges provide a realized accuracy between 84–89% for males and 85–91% for females using the LJ method, and a realized accuracy between 79–82% for males and 65–71% for females using the BC method. Both methods worked well for older individuals. Cumulative binomials showed that both methods significantly underperformed; however, results were better for the LJ method, which also showed lower bias. Reference tables for aging modern American samples are provided, and the data meet Daubert guidelines, i.e., legal criteria for acceptable scientific evidence in a court of law in the United States. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Estimating Age in Forensic Anthropology)
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9 pages, 2536 KiB  
Article
Dental Age Estimation Standards for Hispanic Children and Adolescents in California
by Adriana Ustarez, Daniela Rodrigues Silva, Graham Roberts and Jayakumar Jayaraman
Forensic Sci. 2022, 2(3), 565-573; https://doi.org/10.3390/forensicsci2030041 - 24 Aug 2022
Viewed by 1725
Abstract
Background: In recent years, cross-border migrations have resulted in an increase in the number of unaccompanied children apprehended at the United States border, particularly in the state of California. The assessment of the chronological age of a child, in many instances, determines the [...] Read more.
Background: In recent years, cross-border migrations have resulted in an increase in the number of unaccompanied children apprehended at the United States border, particularly in the state of California. The assessment of the chronological age of a child, in many instances, determines the type of services rendered within the medico-legal system. Age can be determined by using population-specific reference standards, preferably within a geographical area. However, such standards are not available for Hispanic children living in California. Aim: To present new standards by developing and validating a reference data set for dental age estimation in Hispanic children in California. Methods: For the reference dataset, a total of 705 dental panoramic radiographs of healthy children aged 7.00 to 13.99 years belonging to Hispanic ethnicity in California were obtained from the archives of a teaching hospital. All permanent teeth on the left side were scored in automated software, and the average at assessment was calculated for each stage of dental development. For the validation dataset, 133 radiographs that were not part of the reference dataset were obtained based on the above criteria. The difference between the chronological age (CA) and dental age (DA) estimated using the California Hispanic reference dataset was assessed using a paired t-test with a statistical significance of p < 0.05. Results: The overall difference between the chronological age and dental age (CA-DA) was 0.03 years (1.56 weeks) for females and −0.10 years (−5.26 weeks) for males, and the difference was not statistically significant for children aged 8.00 to 12.99 years (p > 0.05). Conclusions: The newly constructed dental reference data can be recommended for age estimation in children belonging to Hispanic ethnicity in California. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Estimating Age in Forensic Anthropology)
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Review

Jump to: Research

11 pages, 646 KiB  
Review
Age-at-Death Estimation by Dental Means as a Part of the Skeletal Analysis
by Joe Adserias-Garriga
Forensic Sci. 2023, 3(2), 357-367; https://doi.org/10.3390/forensicsci3020027 - 13 Jun 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2126
Abstract
Age-at-death is one of the most valuable pieces of information in a biological profile, and is an important step in identifying remains. Age-at-death estimation by dental means is performed by forensic odontologists and forensic anthropologists in their daily casework tasks. Both forensic odontologists [...] Read more.
Age-at-death is one of the most valuable pieces of information in a biological profile, and is an important step in identifying remains. Age-at-death estimation by dental means is performed by forensic odontologists and forensic anthropologists in their daily casework tasks. Both forensic odontologists and forensic anthropologists must be aware of all of the age indicators and of all of the methods that can offer the sufficient scientific robusticity that forensic cases require. Osteological and dental methods of age estimation rely on developmental changes in younger individuals and on degenerative changes in older individuals. Skeletal methods based on developmental changes are highly reliable, while methods based on degenerative or post-formation changes show higher variability. From all skeletal methods, those relying on tooth formation and development are the most accurate to assess an individual’s age. Dental methods of age estimation can be implemented in the skeletal analysis of juvenile and adult remains, representing an additional indicator of age. The aim of this review paper is to provide a practical reference for applying dental age estimation to human remains as a part of skeletal analysis. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Estimating Age in Forensic Anthropology)
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