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Estimating Stature

Estimating stature from skeletal remains can be done in several ways. Watch Prof Rebecca Gowland explain more.

The height of an individual can be estimated from their skeletal remains using two approaches. The first is called the “anatomical method”, which involves measuring the height of every skeletal element that contributes to an individual’s stature in life. Although extremely time-consuming and dependent on a complete skeleton being present, this approach is the most accurate and takes into consideration different body proportions (e.g. a long trunk and short legs). This method provides a skeletal height, not the living height, and a correction has to be applied to take account of the missing soft tissues.

The alternative approach to calculating height, and the one most commonly used, referred to as the “mathematical method”. Here, one or two of the major long bones are measured and sex-specific regression equations are used to extrapolate the living height of the person (see the table below for a method commonly used).

The mathematical methods are significantly quicker to use and allow for stature to be calculated even from incomplete skeletons. These methods are based on population averages, and therefore do not take into account individual differences. Body proportions do vary between populations and this is an important consideration when using mathematical methods. Although a variety of population-specific equations have been produced for people in different parts of the world, these are far from exhaustive.

List of stature formulae for the different long bones Stature calculations for white males (from Trotter 1970)

The American Academy of Forensic Sciences has produced an Approved American National Standard for stature estimation in forensic anthropology.

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Forensic Archaeology and Anthropology

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