Academic journal article Journal of Anthropology

The Difficulty of Sexing Skeletons from Unknown Populations

Academic journal article Journal of Anthropology

The Difficulty of Sexing Skeletons from Unknown Populations

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Determination of skeletal sex can be achieved using morphological (descriptive) or metric (quantitative) methods of forensic anthropology. Morphological methods rely on features which arise from an interaction between genetically controlled sex-linked patterns of growth and development, with environmental influences that may differ according to gender [1]. However, they can only be measured in categorical scales, which rely on judgments of observers [2-4]. Metric methods asses the same results of growth and development of males and females as morphological methods but remove the potential for observers subjectivity. However, they are dependent on size and shape differences between members of various populations. This makes discriminant functions of sex assignment, based on metric measurements, population specific, thus biasing application to individuals from different populations [5, 6]. Skeletal size differs considerably across populations and the use of inappropriate discriminant functions can result in misinterpretation of sex [1, 7]. The consistency with which existing methods are able to correctly identify skeletal sex needs to be investigated. It would be desirable to develop a method that combines good aspects of both descriptive and metric methods and is not population specific. The first step towards this goal is an evaluation of how consistently various methods perform in sex estimates of individuals of unknown population of origin.

Numerous methods exist for determining skeletal sex; however, for the purposes of this study seven metric and eight morphological methods were chosen. The methods were included because they are widely used or cited, such as Acsadi and Nemeskeri [7], Krogman and Iscan [8], Phenice [9], and Steyn and Iccan [10], and other studies which address a novel or revised technique for sex estimation [1, 11-19]. Their full list can be seen in Table 1. The material was chosen to imitate cases where sex and other individualising characteristics are unknown. The material comes from a variety of populations. The purpose of this study was not to evaluate the competence of specific studies against skeletons of known sex, but to assess consistency with which morphological and metric methods can determine skeletal sex.

2. Material and Methods

This study used 20 skeletons held by Ray Last Laboratory at University of Adelaide. There was no selection; simply all available skeletons in the laboratory were used. The skeletons were of unknown sex, with one exception. This skeleton was recently acquired by dissection of a male cadaver. Although the sex of this skeleton was known, it was treated, in all analyses and interpretations, in the same manner as all other skeletons in this sample. For this study, knowledge of actual sex was not essential as this study aims to evaluate the consistency of results of various methods, rather than the competence of each single method. These skeletons are derived from a variety of populations. They come from two sources: (1) donated skeletons of Australians of European descent and (2) teaching skeletons bought by the university from India early in the 20th century. Some Australians of European descent may have a small admixture from Aboriginal Australians; this, however, is unlikely to influence their morphology. Since particular methods of sex estimation were based on skeletons from specific populations it is possible that they will not perform well on skeletons of different origins. The methods selected, chosen for this study, are those commonly used in forensic anthropology. These methods are based on a variety of United States, European, South African, and Egyptian skeletal series. To the author's knowledge, there are not many methods based on skeletal series from Asia. Therefore, application of commonly used methods to Indian skeletons imitates a possible forensic situation where the population of origin of a skeleton is unknown and difficult to establish. …

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