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Reviewed by:
  • Age Estimation of the Human Skeleton
  • Olivier Dutour
Age Estimation of the Human Skeleton, edited by Krista Latham and Michael Finnegan. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas Publishers, 2010. 310 pp. (ISBN 978-0-398-07949-9) $69.95 (hardcover).

This book, Age Estimation of the Human Skeleton, celebrates the legacy of the Mountain Desert & Coastal Forensic Anthropologists meeting (MD&C), which promotes, since its beginning 30 years ago, researches on skeletal biology and forensic anthropology. Most advanced methodological researches on age estimation from the human skeleton, presented at recent MD&C symposia, organized by the editors, are detailed in this substantial volume of 310 pages which is structured in 17 chapters and written by 23 contributors.

A brief survey by Douglas Ubelaker introduces the reader to pioneers' works on this topic, from "academic ancestors" such as Dwight, Wilder, Hrdlička, Krogman, Stewart, and McKern, since the late 19th century to the 1970s.

The body of the book is organized into three sections: (1) dental-aging techniques, (2) osteological-aging techniques, and (3) histological- and multifactorial-aging techniques.

The first chapter of the dental section reviews the different dental-aging techniques, based on developmental or degenerative processes. Techniques based on developmental changes include analyses of hard-tissue formation (well-known Moorrees' and Demirdjian's studies), dental eruption and third-molar development (first introduced by Schour and Massler), and dental measurements. Techniques based on degenerative changes include analyses of hard- tissue obliteration (derived from Miles' or Molnar's methods) as well as dentin sclerosis and associated techniques (famous Gustafson's and Lamendin's methods). Three methodological papers on the evaluation of root transparency follow, comparing sectioning and backlighting methods, on either single- or double-rooted teeth. The last paper of this section compares the accuracy of the two commonly used dental charts (Schour and Massler 1944; Ubelaker 1989) when applied to modern American children of European ancestry.

This section collects the essentials in dental-aging methods as well as provides new validation studies which improve procedures for age estimation based on teeth. Justifiably, the authors stress the population-specific nature of some of these methods that must be taken into account in order to interpret the results appropriately. The reader might note (and possibly regret) the author's choice not to consider tooth cementum annulations here. Methods using this presumed age-related phenomenon deserve a place in this section; hopefully they will be discussed in a second edition.

The second section devoted to osteological-aging techniques is prefaced by a paper offering a substantial consideration of the global question of the nature [End Page 445] and sources of error when estimating age-at-death from the skeletal remains. As this paper has a general value for age estimation from skeletal remains, including teeth, one can consider that it would fit more logically in the introductory part of this book. Multiple papers follow, devoted to several age estimators observed respectively on the mature pelvic girdle, including sacrum, acetabulum, and pubic symphysis (the latter is revisiting McKern and Stewart 1957). The limitations of the use of cartilage ossification (thyroid and costal cartilages) as an indicator of age at death are presented critically. Furthermore, two papers supplement this section: one is revisiting errors on age estimation when using fetal collections; the second is presenting recent advances in the estimation of age-at-death from the assessment of immature bones.

All these papers are offering a good spectrum of the methods currently used; they provide argued validation for most of them, and they are opening new ways for improving some of these classic techniques. Few new promising methods are also described that need now to be tested.

The third section is devoted to the histological techniques as well as to the multifactorial methodological approach. The first paper redeems the interest of histomorphometry in age determination by using quantitative histology on rib and femoral cortical bone on the identified skeletal historical collection of Spitalfields (GB); the second paper examines histologically the frontal bone on an autopsied sample of EuroAmerican corpses; and the third paper deals with the histology of a cortical part of a sample of immature ribs (from 2 to 21 years old) coming...


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pp. 445-447
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