Quick Tips: How To Estimate The Chronological Age Of A Human Skeleton – The Basics.

Estimation of age-at-death involves observing morphological features in the skeletal remains, comparing the information with changes recorded for recent populations of known age, and then estimating any sources of variability likely to exist between the prehistoric and the recent population furnishing the documented data. This third step is seldom recognized or discussed in osteological studies, but it represents a significant element. – Ubelaker, D. 1989.

There are numerous markers on a human skeleton which can provide archaeologists and anthropologists with an estimate age of the deceased. The areas of the skeletal remains that are studied are:

If the skeletal marker listed above is a link, it means that I have already covered it in an individual blog post and can be found by following the link.

We can age skeletal remains to a rough estimate, as over a lifetime a human skeleton undergoes sequential chronological changes. Teeth appear and bone epiphyseal form and fuse during childhood and adolescence, with some bone fusing, metamorphose and degeneration carrying on after the age of twenty. Buikstra and Ubelaker, 1994, developed seven age categories that human osteological remains are separated into. The seven age classes are; fetus (before birth), infant (0-3 years), child (3-12 years), adolescent (12-20 years), young adult (20-35 years), middle adult (35-50 years), and old adult (50+ years).

When it comes to ageing skeletal remains, there are numerous problems. This is because individuals of the same chronological age can show difference degrees of development. Therefore, this causes archaeologists and anthropologists to obtain an accurate age estimate, which may not be precise.

It should be noted that it is a lot easier to deduce a juvenile/sub-adult’s age, as the ends of the limb bones form and fuse at known ages and the ages of which tooth formation and eruption occur are very well documented, although somewhat variable. After maturity there is little continuing skeletal change to observe, this causes adult ageing to become more difficult.

References:

Buikstra, J.E., Ubelaker, D.H. 1994. Standards for Data Collection From Human Skeletal Remains. Fayetteville, Arkansas: Arkansas Archaeological Survey Report Number 44.

Ubelaker, D.H. 1989. Human Skeletal Remains: Excavation, Analysis, Interpretation (2nd Ed.). Washington, DC: Taraxacum.

White, T.D., Folkens, P.A. 2005. The Human Bone Manual. San Diego, CA: Academic Press. Pg 360-385.

This is the first of a Quick Tips series on ageing skeletal remains, the next in this series will focus on the epiphyseal closure method of ageing sub-adults. To read more Quick Tips in the mean time, click here

To learn about basic fracture types and their characteristics/origins click here!

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Quick Tips: The Use of 3D Animation to Visualise a Crime Scene in Forensics.

Many television programs create 3D animations and computer generated images using highly technical computer programmes to help re-enact the scenes or time frame of a crime. This is mostly used so that the viewer at home can really grasp what crime has been committed and help establish a sense that they are a witness. But in reality these animations and images are becoming an increasingly popular technique used within the courtroom.

Information and evidence can be easily constructed from the traditional methods of forensic photography, blood spatter analysis and eye witness testimonies. But in this modern technological time the information gathered is now being used to create computerised animation that depicts the series of events within a crime. But is this method of providing visual appropriate and correct? Could the animation be showing a display of actions/movements that humans can’t possibly and physically make?

There is a big issue with admissibility, which can cause bias. This occurs when the jurors or judge aren’t aware of an error/uncertainty within the procedure of recreating a real life scene into animation. This can cause them to believe that the evidence is a hundred per cent correct, when in fact there are many errors which were created in the process or animation (Ma & Zheng, 2010). Another big problem arises when studies found that people are five times more likely to remember something they see and hear rather than hearing alone. People are also twice as likely to be persuaded if the arguments are backed with visual evidence (Lederer & Solomon, 1997). So this poses a huge problem as false memories and false testimonies could be influenced, which in the end could cause an innocent person to go to jail for a crime they did not commit.

So with the possibility of creating false memories is the use of 3D animation beneficial for the use of visualising crime scenes within court? It is argued that it is as the use of computerised images creates a higher level of accuracy and speeds up the forensic investigational process but only in major crime types, not every day homicides and robberies. However even though it has limited application in the courtrooms,  it can pose to be very useful in formal briefs with the forensic personnel, and within the backstage elements of the investigation itself (Ma & Zheng, 2010).

References:

Lederer FI, Solomon SH. 1997. Courtroom technology – an introduction to the onrushing future. Fifth National Court Technology Conference: National Centre for State Courts. Available here.

Ma M, Zheng H. 2010. Virtual Reality and 3D Animation in Forensic Visualization. Journal of Forensic Sciences. 55, 5. 1227-1231.

With this modern day technology, can someone make a grave that would never be found?

Recap of the lecture by Paul Cheetham, Senior Lecturer and Geophysical Surveying Guru at Bournemouth University.

I found this lecture marvellous as it gave a great insight into the minds of murderers on the disposal of bodies be it a crime of passion or a calculated murder. Paul Cheetham talked about how a grave is like a time capsule capturing the personality and traits of the perpetrator. The grave can be also as important as the body; the grave could contain personal belongings of the victim as well as the criminal, some rogue hairs or blood, or contain the tools that made the murder and burial possible. I also understood the process and evolution of forensic archaeology, from the use of shovels and great man power to the new technology of geophysics and cadaver dogs. I found this to be extremely fascinating as the techniques evolved into a more archaeological practice and viable way of accessing more evidence.

So much can give a suspect away, the position of the grave, is it close to the road side with easy road access or in the middle of a field or woodlands? Is the grave in an area the suspect feels safe or familiar with? Is the grave within a 45 minute driving distance? If so this could give away a lot more than the perpetrator thinks. Our personality, skill level and habits are all visible when we create a grave. The nature of the grave also can be a clear marker, is there mixing of sub and top soil? Has the settlement of the grave filling exposed the graves indentation? Are there changes in the surrounding plants? Are they suddenly blooming or withering away? If yes to any of the above chances are that the body the murderer thought they buried safely with no possible way of spotting is soon going to be discovered by a dog walker doing their routes. Another great use of modern day technology is aerial photography which can clearly give away a grave with the different shadows and compressions of the earth and the biodiversity growing on top. From the use of this it is becoming increasingly easy to spot any unmarked graves from modern murders or medieval cemeteries.

Soon the use of these practices will help progress the use of archaeology within the criminal science spectrum and make it impossible for an unmarked grave to go unnoticed putting more criminals away.