Skeletal Maturation and Estimating Age-At-Death During the First Decade of Life

Frank D. Houghton Jr.

PhD Thesis 2003

Anyone who has tried to age immature skeletal remains knows this is not a simple task to perform. The current procedure for estimating age-at-death has three shortcomings. It emphasizes dental formation to the near exclusion of other aging criteria. It has no provisions for systematically evaluating multiple criteria to estimate age-at-death. Finally, the vast majority of aging standards in use today have their origins in growth studies of hyper-nourished, well-cared-for children from either North America or Western Europe. These studies represent optimal rather than modal growth rates. This raises the question: is it reasonable to use these aging standards to estimate age-at-death of immature skeletal remains?

This study had two goals. The first was to examine the possibility of constructing population-specific aging standards using dental age as a proxy for chronological age. The second goal was to devise a method that uses multiple criteria in a systematic manner to estimate age-at-death.

Various aging criteria were examined in immature skeletal remains ranging from birth to ten years of age sampled from the Spitalfields, Poundbury Camp, S.R. Atkinson, and Carthaginian Tophet Collections. These observations were utilized to construct population-specific aging standards for each of these samples. These aging criteria were grouped into aging systems based on the location (cranial, dental or postcranial) and data type (metric or morphological). The suggested age of each of these aging systems ws estimated applying these aging standards. The associations among these aging systems were assessed using principle component analysis (PCA). The results of this analysis were used to calculate the traditional and overall ages-at-death.
The results of this study suggest that it is possible to construct population-specific aging standards using archaeologically derived skeletal collections. These population-specific aging standards appear to be more reliable for estimating age-at-death than traditional aging standards. PCA can be utilized to evaluate the contribution that each aging system makes to overall estimation of age-at-death. Multiple aging criteria make it possible to estimate age-at-death of edentulous skeletal remains. The new aging approach will increase the number of individuals that can provide information useful to interpreting the life styles of past people.