Age estimation of skeletal remains: principal methods

Villa, Chiara; Lynnerup, Niels
January 2014
Research & Reports in Forensic Medical Science;2014, Vol. 4, p3
Academic Journal
The age of an individual is often a fundamental piece of data in connection with forensic identification of unidentified bodies. The methods most often used are based on visually determining various morphological, age-related changes in the skeleton (or teeth, although odontological methods are not reviewed in this paper). As such, these methods are all relative: ie, they do not obtain results in calendar years but estimates of the age at death, often with a rather large range. Recently, methods have been proposed for more direct ascertainment of age at death: eg, protein racemization and radiocarbon methods. The latter method, especially, may yield absolute age (year of birth), because radiocarbon activity (as measured in specific proteins in specific cells or tissues of the body) may be in equilibrium with the so-called bomb-pulse, when atmospheric radiocarbon content has changed markedly from one year to another. This review covers the basic and most often used gross morphological methods, radiologically-based methods, biochemical methods, and radiocarbon dating.


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