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Osteological analysis: age and sex

Osteological analysis: age and sex

Carolina joins Emily again to find out what particular bone fragments can tell us about the biological sex and age of the individual.

(We use the term ‘biological sex’ or ‘osteological sex’ because the remains can only tell us about the skeletal features typical of males and females, and not the expressed gender of the person.)

diagram showing the Greater Sciatic Notch and the differences between a typical male and female pelvis including wider hips, sacrum, pelvic brim and subpubic angle in females

The differences between male and female pelvises. © OpenStax College, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons. (Adapted by the course creators with the addition of the label ‘Greater Sciatic Notch’). Click to expand.

The bone fragment Emily discusses in the video has been identified as being from a female pelvis. Osteologists use a five point scoring system to assess the shape of an individual’s sciatic notch (Buikstra and Ubelaker 1994). A score of 1 is considered a definite female, and 5 is a definite male.

photo of the sciatic notch from the video with diagrams showing the wide (female - 1) or narrow (male - 5) shape.

Diagram showing the shapes that would score 1 and 5 which define ‘female’ and ‘male’ sciatic notches.

Emily also mentions ‘vertebral obliteration’ which refers to the degeneration of the vertebrae leading to changes in the shape of the spine, blocked blood vessels, nerve damage and loss of flexibility.

It’s much harder to identify the biological/osteological sex and age in cremated remains than it is with inhumations (the practice of burying the dead). Take a look at the videos in the downloads section if you’re interested in learning how age and sex is identified in inhumated remains.

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