A new approach to estimating skeletal age may h

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image: Deanna Smith, a master’s student in archeology at SFU and lead author of the study, measures a bone in the lab.
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Credit: Kobie Huang

New research by SFU archaeologists could help forensic teams in their work to estimate the age of child remains found during archaeological work or in criminal investigation cases. Their study is published in the journal International forensic sciences.

Although age is usually determined by dental records or other methods, such as measuring the long bones of the upper or lower extremities, these methods may not always be possible, especially in the case of young children. The researchers turned to another approach: measuring the skull and mandibular bones, located in the skull.

For their study, the researchers measured these bones in the skeletal remains of children of known sex and age from the collections of the Natural History Museums in Lisbon, Portugal and London, UK. The bones were from 185 children from birth to 12.9 years old who lived between 1700 and 1900. The measurements have been shown to provide a valid and comprehensive approach to estimating the age of juveniles.

According to SFU forensic anthropologist Hugo Cardoso, age, combined with gender, background and other skeletal characteristics, helps determine who the child might be from a list of potential candidates. . Families can then provide a DNA sample to confirm the identity of the child whose remains have been found, resulting in the family being shut down.

“It is important to estimate the age of the child’s remains, as it helps with identification, especially in criminal investigations,” says Deanna Smith, study leader, master’s student in archeology at SFU and member of the Wikwemikong First Nation. Determining the age of the remains can help narrow the pool of possibilities from a list of hundreds of missing children of varying ages, for example.

Researchers assist in a variety of situations where identification of remains is sought, from criminal investigations to cases where medical records are insufficient to estimate age. “As physical anthropologists, we are often called upon to identify found human remains, which are then subjected to a forensic investigation into the death,” explains Cardoso, chairman of the Department of Archeology and co-director of the Center for Forensic Research.. “We are also involved in the study of remains intentionally found in archaeological projects, such as the excavation of a prehistoric or historic cemetery.”

Cardoso adds that in other archaeological contexts, the excavation of cemeteries can provide a snapshot of the entire population in a certain period of time and in a certain geographic area, allowing researchers to learn more about how which people lived in the past, and age determination is a key factor. “Estimating age can help researchers reconstruct population demographics and better understand aspects of nutrition, health and stress during growing years. “

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