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Test of age-related variation in the craniometry of the adult human foramen magnum region: implications for sex determination methods

Abstract

Sex differences in the foramen magnum region of the cranial base have been identified with varying rates of success. Recent publications demonstrate a continuing strong interest in metric analysis of the foramen magnum region for sex determination despite the generally low expression of cranial base sexual dimorphism. It is important to identify possible age effects on skull base morphometric variables as most reported discriminant analyses use pooled-age samples without assessing the influence of aging on sexual dimorphism. This study examined 135 adult cranial bases (69 males and 66 females) from the St. Bride’s documented skeletal collection in London. Traditional craniometric measurements were recorded and the effect of age on sexual dimorphism of this anatomical region was tested using a variety of statistical analyses including MANOVA and discriminant function analysis. Age-dependent discriminant functions for <50 and >50 years of age were developed and compared. The cross-validated results showed that the <50 years function determined the sex of 69.1 % correctly while the >50 years function achieved 81.3 % correct predictions. However, the high sex biases of these functions (14.4 % and −17.5 %) severely limit their practical application. A pooled-age discriminant function permitted 71.9 % correct prediction with a sex bias of only −1.7 %. The statistical analyses also showed no significant age effect on any of the variables, suggesting that a separation by age is not necessary for the development of sex determination methods.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank the staff at St. Bride’s Church for their gracious hospitality and immense help in obtaining the results presented in this paper—Canon David Meara, James Irving, Matthew Busby, Claire Seaton, David Smith, and Bob Drakes. Thanks are also expressed to Emeritus Professor John Bannigan, University College Dublin, Ireland, for encouraging this research; Professor Louise Scheuer, University of Dundee, UK, for her very helpful comments and a catalog of the St. Bride’s skeletal remains. Many thanks also to the Human Anatomy staff at University College Dublin, Ireland, for their help and patience. We also thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions which helped to improve this paper.

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Correspondence to René Gapert.

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Gapert, R., Black, S. & Last, J. Test of age-related variation in the craniometry of the adult human foramen magnum region: implications for sex determination methods. Forensic Sci Med Pathol 9, 478–488 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12024-013-9437-3

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Keywords

  • Skull base
  • Sex differences
  • Aging
  • Forensic anthropology
  • Menopause
  • St. Bride’s documented skeletal collection
  • Physical anthropology