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METHODS

Demographic Criteria Assessment


The analysis utilizes traditional approaches for the assessment of the general
physical characteristics of the age at death, sex, and stature of the individuals in
the sample (e.g. Stewart 1979; Brothwell 1981; Bass 1987; Isan and Kennedy
1989). It consists of a five phase procedure, as follows: 1) a general description
and confirmation of the human origins of the material; 2) the estimation and
segregation of the minimum number of individuals; 3) the determination of sex; 4)
the estimation of age, and; 5) the estimation of stature.
General Description of the Skeletal Material
The human remains were separated from non-human remains, and the individual
bones and bone fragments were identified and classified. Observations were
made on their condition and preservation, and any evidence of post mortem
damage to the material was noted.
Minimum Number of Individuals
During this phase, the minimum number of individuals (MNI) was estimated, and
the skeletal material was separated into discrete individuals. An a priori
assumption for the determination of the MNI is that an individual's remains will
not be spread out over more than one room. This assumption was fundamental
in determining and maintaining chronological control during the initial
excavations, and is followed in this research. Determination of discrete
individuals was based on diagnostic bones indicative of at least one individual.
These include, for example, the sternum, sided limb bones, and crania.
Determination of Sex
Observations regarding the sex distribution of the sample were compared with
metrical and morphological standards developed to delineate the sex of an
individual within a broader dimorphic distribution. Determination of sex is based
on direct observation of sexually dimorphic criteria. Adult males and females
differ in both general size and shape, and this variation is reflected in the skeletal
anatomy. The determination of the sex of subadult skeletons is more problematic
than those of adults. However, the use of an inclusive approach combining
morphological and metrical characters has been tested with known (sexed)
series of modern skeletal material, and Jackes (1992:195) has reported an
accuracy rate of 85-95 percent.
Morphologically dimorphic features include such characteristics as the shape of
the pelvic girdle and the crania (Buikstra and Ubelaker 1994:16). The pelvic
girdle is the most sexually dimorphic region of the skeleton, and it can be used to

determine sex with a high degree of accuracy (Bass 1987). The sexual
dimorphism of the pelvis is primarily the result of reproductive mechanics, and is
not readily apparent until adolescence. Beginning in adolescence, the female
pelvis expands relative to its height, while the male pelvis continues along
trajectories established at birth (Buikstra and Ubelaker 1994:16). Holcomb and
Konigsberg (1995:113) have reported a greater than 66 percent accuracy utilizing
the greater sciatic notch of the ilium to determine the sex of known infant
skeletons, and these authors have suggested that genetic morphological traits
such as these may offer further avenues of research for the sexing of immature
skeletons.
Adolescent characters can begin to develop as early as nine years of age.
Detection of female aspects in a very young os coxae would indicate a high
probability of accuracy (Coleman 1969). Conversely, male patterns observed in
an adolescent os coxae are to be considered inconclusive, as the remains may
represent a female as yet undeveloped (Buikstra and Ubelaker 1994:16). In
such cases, additional corroborative evidence must be sought to make a firm
determination of sex. In addition, male crania may retain a gracile, female form
during early adolescence. Hence, detection of male characters in adolescent
skeletal material is suggestive of its masculinity (Buikstra and Ubelaker 1994:16).
Other metrically dimorphic attributes include the maximum diameter of the femur
head and the maximum facial breadth (Buikstra and Ubelaker 1994:16). This
form of variation is often continuous in nature, with males being longer or larger
than females. Discriminant function formulae are used to segregate individuals
based upon patterns of sexually dimorphic growth and musculature (e.g., Snow
et al. 1978; Stewart 1979; Richman et al. 1979; Kelley 1979; Steele 1980). The
formulae are typically applied with the most success to the long bones. Muscular
development is also sometimes evaluated through these formulae, but accurate
measurement of such development is problematic (Workshop of European
Anthropologists 1980; Brothwell 1981; Isan and Miller-Shaivitz 1984; St.Hoyme
and Isan 1989).
An abbreviated listing of the metrical and morphological characters utilized in
sexing the skeletal material is presented in Table 2. A complete list of all
characters recorded and the organization of analytic methods is presented in
Appendix A (Stewart 1979; Brothwell 1981; Isan and Loth 1986; Isan and
Miller-Shaivitz 1986; Bass 1987; Bennett 1988; Ubelaker 1989).
Estimation of Age at Death
The determination of age relies on the assessment of the physiological age of the
skeleton, as opposed to the chronological age of the individual.
The
physiological age is based upon relative growth patterns, and is hoped to give an
accurate estimate of chronological age, but environmental, nutritional, and
disease stresses often cause changes in the skeleton which will mask the true

age of the individual. In addition, the accuracy with which age can be estimated
varies inversely with the age of the individual at death. In younger years, with
age being estimated primarily upon observed developmental changes, more
precise estimates are possible, whereas in older individuals, age estimates are
more often accomplished via the observation of degenerative changes, which
offer less accuracy.
Age determination can be accomplished through many means, and a holistic
analysis of all possible age-related attributes is best for an overall estimate.
Some of the more typically utilized attributes include:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.

Dental Eruption and Occlusion


Cortical Bone Histology
Cranial Suture Closures
Postcranial Epiphyseal Unions
Pubic Symphyseal Face Morphology
Age-Related Degenerative Conditions
Phase Changes in the Sternal Rib
Potpourri

1. Dental Eruption and Occlusion


Age estimates are based on the age of eruption of the deciduous and permanent
dentition. This method is useful in age estimates of up to about 15 years. The
third molar (wisdom tooth) erupts after this time, but is so variable in age of
eruption, if it erupts at all, that it is not a very reliable age indicator. See Bass pp.
289-290 for an illustration of Ubelaker's eruptive phases, noting the standard
deviations. Occlusal wear has also been offered as an indicator of age, but this
has been shown to be highly inaccurate, especially in archaeological context,
where high-grit content diets (such as from the use of natural stone mano and
metate) can wear down the occlusal surface of the tooth by the end of puberty see Bass pp. 286-87, after Brothwell (1965).
2. Cortical Bone Histology
Kerley (1984) developed a system of aging based on osteon counts taken from
midshaft long bone sections. This process involves counting the number of
whole osteons and osteon fragments (which increase in number with age), and
nonhaversion canals and the percentage of circumferential lamellar bone in the
cortex (which decreases with age, completely disappearing around age fifty).
These estimates are taken from the outer one third on the cortex, with a normal
light microscope in four fields at 100X. A percentage estimate is calculated, and
what is sought after is the rate of osteon turnover or replacement. These
percentages are plugged into either a regression formula or a pre-calculated
age\profile chart. Kerley has obtained a reliability of almost 90% with a standard
deviation of +/- 5 years, with the best correlation coming from the fibula, then the
femur and tibia.

3. Cranial Suture Closures


This method bases age upon the degree of closure, union or ossification of the
cranial sutures. These methods have until recently been considered inaccurate,
but Meindel and Lovejoy (1985) have introduced new evidence to indicate
parietal ectocranial sutures are reliable indicators of age over 40 years. In
addition, Mann et al. (1987) have offered the four maxillary sutures and their
rates of closure as reliable age estimators - see Bass pp.47-48.
4. Postcranial Epiphysial Unions
(see handout #1) Endochondral bones of the postcranium form via the union and
ossification of cartilaginous bridges between growing bones. This process can
be seen to occur along a growth algorithm, and can be used to estimate age at
death. Handout #1, as well as Bass (1987), lists some of these locations of
epiphyseal union, as well as the approximate age ranges for which these unions
occur. This data can be used on a union/non-union basis, and McKern and
Stewart have define five grades of epiphyseal union: unobservable (0), beginning
(1), active (2), recent (3), and complete (4), and these offer a possibly more
accurate estimate of age.
5. Pubic Symphyseal Face Morphology
(see handout #2) The pubic symphyseal face in the young is characterized by an
undulating surface, such as the crennulated surface of a typical non-fused
epiphyseal plate. This surface undergoes a regular progressive metamorphosis
from age 18 onwards. The phase system diagrammed in the handout, was
developed by Suchey and Brooks for the male pubic symphysis.
6. Age-Related Degenerative Changes in Skeletal Features
Many non-pathogenic conditions such as certain expressions of arthritis and
osteoporosis become more prevalent and pronounced in old age, and can be
used to give corroborative evidence in the determination of age. These
occurrences are not entirely reliable in themselves, however, as injury and
pathological expressions of these conditions can mimic the degenerative
condition. An illustrative case can be seen in the osteophytic growths of the
vertebral body (via osteoarthritis). These growths form on the outer margins of
the centra, and Steward (1958) has computed an age progression histogram for
humans over 21 years based on the percentage of extra-central lipping as a
function of age for the lumbar and thoracic vertebra - see Bass pp. 20-21.
7. Phase Changes in the Sternal Ribs
Iscan and Loth have developed a system of age estimation based on sequential
changes at the sternal end of the fourth rib. These changes are similar to those
that occur on the pubic symphyseal face. They are of a specific morphological
nature and occur on the costochondral joint between the rib and sternum. They
consider that these phases are not as subject to variation due to sex, pregnancy
and activity patterns as is the pubic symphyseal face. See Bass (pp. 135-142)
for photos of Iscan and Loth's phases, with the general progression illustrated as

an increase in the depth of the articular depression and the degenerative


fragmentation, thinning and increased porosity at the edges of the articular
surface over time.
8. Potpourri:
a. Note that generally females are more advanced than males with regard to
physiological age, being about two years advanced at puberty, five years at
maturity, and seven to ten years in old age.
b. The sacroiliac joint undergoes changes in morphology similar to those at the
pubic symphysis, Lovejoy et al. (1985) offers a phase system based on these
morphological changes.
c. Krogman (1949) offers a system of aging based on transillumination through
the scapular body to chart the occurrence and amount of atrophic (thinning)
centers, basically, the more that are present, the older the individual.
d. Various radiographic analysis techniques focus on age related changes to
interior bone structures, such as at the costo-chondral juncture, the metaphyseal
plates of the long bones, and Walker & Lovejoy's (1985) radiographic analysis of
trabecular bone involution in the clavicle.
e. Bass (1987) and Ubelaker (1989) offer age estimates based on long bone
lengths, but these have a wide range of variation even within a single relatively
homogenous population.
Estimation of Stature
Estimation of stature is based on extrapolation formulae derived from
populational averages of long bone lengths. These averages are computed from
known populations, resulting in some degree of error when applied to a sample
from a prehistoric population. The formulae utilized are based on long bone
lengths and corresponding statures derived from data from historic Native
American populations (Steele and McKern n.d.; Steele 1980). Bones utilized in
this phase of analysis include the humerus, radius, ulna, femur, tibia, and fibula.