A comparison of pubic symphysis aging methods to analyze elderly female individuals in the Lisbon skeletal collection
Sussman, Rachel Anne
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Although the pubic symphysis remains the most commonly utilized osteological feature to ascertain age-at-death estimations by forensic anthropologists (Garvin and Passalacqua, 2012), these aging methods do not accurately age elderly individuals. Through the re-examination of a Balkan sample, Berg (2008) noted a morphological variant, which may be correlated to osteoporosis expression by the increasing presence of macroporosity, present on female individuals that had previously been unexplained. This morphological variant can assist in the application of the Suchey-Brooks method to age elderly female individuals with the inclusion of a seventh phase (Berg, 2008). Hartnett (2010) also re-examined the pubic symphysis to better estimate age for modern populations and noted morphological variants similar to those described by Berg (2008). Hartnett (2010) attributed this variant to a decrease in bone quality associated with age-related morphological change. The present study examined the 330 female skeletons housed at Lisbon Collection, with the specific aim to provide a comparison of pubic symphysis age estimation methods, including Suchey-Brooks (1990), Berg (2008), Hartnett (2010), and Boldsen et al. (2002), on a known modern skeletal collection geographically dissimilar from the collections originally examined by Berg (2008) and Hartnett (2010). This dissimilar population was important because Berg's original study noted regional differences in the appearance and applicability of the seventh phase. The morphological variants present in female elderly individuals in the Lisbon Skeletal Collection support the introduction of a seventh phase to the standard Suchey-Brooks pubic symphysis method. Using the seventh phase, the Berg (2008) and Hartnett (2010) method improved their accuracy rates for aging older individuals. However, when the entire female population sample is considered the established age-at-death estimation methods do not perform well. The relationship between bone quality, aging method estimation assessment, and known age are discussed with considerations made for the influencing factors on bone preservation. A major difficulty in this analysis was parsing out information regarding bone density loss that occurred as natural degeneration and had a relationship to age-related change. The most significant confounding factor for the analysis of bone density loss and its importance to age-related change is the influence of bone preservation. While it is clear that the seventh phase provides more valuable information for the age estimation of the elderly, the poor correlation of bone quality suggests that this feature is not particularly important for the assessment of elderly phases in this population. This research supports the induction of a seventh phase to help provide more accurate age estimations for elderly populations, as it has been found in various populations, including the Portuguese population.