Evaluating osteological ageing from digital data

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Abstract

Age at death estimation of human skeletal remains is one of the key issues in constructing a biological profile both in forensic and archaeological contexts. The traditional adult osteological methods evaluate macroscopically the morphological changes that occur with increasing age of specific skeletal indicators, such as the cranial sutures, the pubic bone, the auricular surface of the ilium and the sternal end of the ribs. Technologies such as computed tomography and laser scanning are becoming more widely used in anthropology, and several new methods have been developed. This review focuses on how the osteological age-related changes have been evaluated in digital data. First, the 3D virtual copies of the bones have been used to mimic the appearance of the dry bones and the application of the traditional methods. Secondly, the information directly extrapolated from CT scans has been used to assess qualitatively or quantitatively the changes of the trabecular bones, the thickness of the cortical bones, and to perform morphometric analyses. Lastly, the most innovative approach has been the mathematical quantification of the changes of the pelvic joints, calculating the complexity of the surface. The importance of new updated reference datasets, created thanks to the use of CT scanning in forensic settings, is also discussed.

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