Quick Tips: How To Estimate The Biological Sex Of A Human Skeleton – The Basics.

Within anthropological and archaeological sciences, ‘sex’ refers to the biological sex of an individual, based on the chromosomal difference of XX being female, and XY being male. Whereas ‘gender’ refers to the socio-cultural differences placed on the biological differences. In recent times, the words ‘gender’ and sex’ have been used incorrectly as interchangeable words within this discipline.

Therefore, it is important to remember that the word ‘gender’ refers an aspect of a person’s social identity, whereas ‘sex’ refers to the person’s biological identity.

Sexual dimorphism as seen in the human skeleton is determined by the hormones that are produced by the body. There are numerous markers on a human skeleton which can provide archaeologists and anthropologists with an estimate sex of the deceased. The areas of the skeletal remains that are studied are the:

 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.

The two most commonly used skeletal markers that are observed by osteologists are the skull and pelvic bone, as these show the most extreme differences.

It is generally noted that female skeleton elements are characterized by being smaller in size and lighter in construction, whereas males have larger, robust elements. Due to normal individual variation, there will always be smaller, dainty males and larger, robust females. Therefore, it is always important to observe a variety of skeletal markers to come to an accurate determination.

It should be noted that it is a lot harder to reliably deduce a juvenile/sub-adult’s sex, as many of the differences in skeletal markers only become visible after maturation, when the skeletal changes occur due to puberty. Therefore, use of DNA has been widely used to sex sub-adult skeletal remains as DNA analysis can now detect and identify X and Y chromosome-specific sequences.

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 sex determination of skeletal remains. The next post in this series will focus on the use of the skull to determine biological sex. To read more Quick Tips in the mean time, click here

 

Textbook of the Week: Archaeology in Practice.

Every week we highlight one archaeology/anthropology textbook from our suggested readings, a full list of our suggested resources can be found here, on our Useful Literature page.

ImageArchaeology in Practice: A Student Guide to Archaeological Analyses (UK/Europe Link)

Archaeology in Practice: A Student Guide to Archaeological Analyses (US/Worldwide Link)

by Jane Balme and Alistair Paterson. Rating: ****

“This is THE book for how to apply archaeological methods in real life contexts. It is easy to follow, so perfect for first year students as it uses numerous case studies and illustrations to show you how to apply it in practice. I used this during my studies to wrap my head around how methods can be applied – which helped when methods were only briefly discussed in theory during my lectures.”

If you’re new to the realm of archaeological, anthropological and forensic sciences (AAFS), or are a student needing sturdy and reliable references, or wondering “what archaeology or anthropology textbooks to buy? Check out our new ‘Useful Literature’ page!

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Textbook of the Week: Archaeology of Disease.

Every week we highlight one archaeology/anthropology textbook from our suggested readings, a full list of our suggested resources can be found here, on our Useful Literature page.

ImageThe Archaeology of Disease (UK/Europe)

The Archaeology of Disease (US/Worldwide Link)
(Click the links to have a peek inside the book)

by Charlotte Roberts and Keith Manchester. Rating: *****

“This is a essential if you’re studying diseases or taphonomy. It is fully illustrated with amazing case studies to display all diseases – ranging from simple fractures to malnutrition and infections.
Brilliant book, helped me a lot with my university Anthropology unit where I had to examine a bone and conclude which illness it had.”

If you’re new to the realm of archaeological, anthropological and forensic sciences (AAFS), or are a student needing sturdy and reliable references, or wondering “what archaeology or anthropology textbooks to buy? Check out our new ‘Useful Literature’ page!

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Textbook of the Week: Archaeology: Theories, Methods & Practice.

Every week we highlight one archaeology/anthropology textbook from our suggested readings, a full list of our suggested resources can be found here, on our Useful Literature page.

ImageArchaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice (UK/Europe Link)

Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, and Practice (Second Edition) (US/Worldwide Link)

by Colin Renfrew and Paul Bahn. Rating: *****

“This book is highly acclaimed and is the ultimate archaeology bible for students, or people new to archaeology and want to get stuck right in. After being recommended it by two of my University lecturers, I took it out from the library to use for my assignments so many times I ended up buying it.”

If you’re new to the realm of archaeological, anthropological and forensic sciences (AAFS), or are a student needing sturdy and reliable references, or wondering “what archaeology or anthropology textbooks to buy? Check out our new ‘Useful Literature’ page!

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