Academic journal article Forensic Science Communications

Significance of the Classical Morphological Criteria for Identifying Gender Using Recent Skulls

Academic journal article Forensic Science Communications

Significance of the Classical Morphological Criteria for Identifying Gender Using Recent Skulls

Article excerpt


The diagnosis of gender using the skull is based mainly on morphological characteristics. The differential expression of these characteristics is described in the relevant literature almost identically. These descriptions date back to the eighteenth century and arise from observations of a small series of investigations.

To clarify the significance that can be attributed to the 17 primarily morphological characteristics used in gender differentiation from a current point of view, a collection of 137 forensically recent adult skulls from southwestern Germany was investigated. A test group (n = 91; 58 males, 33 females) and a control group (n = 46; 34 males, 12 females) were chosen by random sampling.

The examination of the morphological characteristics of the test group revealed that, in principle, gender could be differentiated from such characteristics. The variability of the individual morphological characteristics, however, caused them to be of varying degrees of importance for the diagnosis. Only five traits could be attributed with a probability of 70-80 percent and were regarded as sufficiently reliable: the glabella, arcus superciliaris, processus mastoideus, crista supramastoidea, and mandibula (overall impression). By combining these five traits in the analysis, the gender of approximately 91 percent of the skulls could be correctly determined.


In forensic science and anthropology, the skull is more frequently and thoroughly investigated than any other section of the human skeleton. However, opinions are divided on how to differentiate between male and female skulls in the most reliable way. According to Prokop and Gohler (1976), it is more difficult to determine the gender of an individual if the skull alone is available. Holland (1986) and Bass (1987), however, regard the skull after the pelvis as the best section of the skeleton for reliable gender differentiation.

Material and Methods

To evaluate the validity and reliability of determining an individual's gender, the relevant morphological features of the skull were assessed on the basis of criteria listed by Acsadi and Nemeskeri (1970) and Ferembach et al. (1979) using 137 recent adult forensic skulls from southwestern Germany (92 G, 44.6 [+ or -] 4.7 years; 45 E, 47.7 [+ or -] 19.2 years).

The individuals were divided into a test group (n = 91; 58 GG, 43.9 [+ or -] 13.0 years; 33 EE, 46.5 [+ or -] 20.4 years) and a control group (n = 46; 34 GG, 45.7 [+ or -] 17.3 years; 12 EE, 50.9 [+ or -] 16.1 years) by random sampling. Statistical analysis was carried out using the SPSS software (SPSS Incorporated, Chicago, Illinois).

The following features and their appearance were assessed:

* Angulus mandibulae: Visual and palpable assessment of the surface of the lower jaw angles: smooth (1), very slight ridges (2), small ridges (3), prominent ridges (4), and very prominent ridges (5). In the case of (4) and (5), the angulus can appear to be turned outwards.

* Arcus superciliaris: Visual and palpable assessment of prominence: very weak (1), slightly marked (2), average prominence (3), rather prominent (4), and very prominent (5). In the case of (4) and (5), a crestlike prominence is observed. In the case of (1) and (2), the weak contour is round. See Figure 1.


* Crista supramastoidea: Visual and palpable assessment: very slightly raised (1), weakly raised (2), moderately raised (3), very pronounced (4), and extremely pronounced (5). See Figure 2.


* Forma orbitae: The contour of the orbital cavities was assessed from the front perspective: round (1), fairly round (2), moderate (3), more or less rectangular (4), and rectangular (5).

* Glabella: Inspected from the frontal and lateral perspective, the course of the curve: missing or only faintly developed (1), just visible (2), moderately shaped (3), pronounced (4), and extremely pronounced (5). …

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