Correlation of the human pubic symphysis surface with age-at-death: a novel quantitative method based on a bandpass filter

Abstract

Age-at-death estimation from skeletal remains typically utilizes the roughness of pubic symphysis articular surfaces. This study presents a new quantitative method adapting a tool from geometric morphometrics, bandpass filtering of partial warp bending energy to extract only age-related changes of the surfaces. The study sample consisted of 440 surface-scanned symphyseal pubic bones from men between 14 and 82 years of age, which were landmarked with 102 fixed and surface semilandmarks. From the original sample, 371 specimens within Procrustes distance of 0.05 of the side-specific average were selected. For this subsample, age was correlated with total bending energy (calculated as summed squared partial warps amplitudes) for a wide range of plausible bandpass filters. For our subsample’s 188 right-side surfaces, the correlation between age and bandpass filtered versions of bending energy peaks relatively sharply at r = −0.648 for ages up through 49 years against the first seven partial warp amplitudes only. The finding for left symphyses is similar. The results demonstrate that below the age 50, the symphyseal surface form changes most systematically related to age may be best detected by a lowpass-filtered version of bending energy: signals at the largest geometric scales of roughness rather than its full spectrum. Combining this method with information from other skeletal features could further improve age-at-death estimation based on the symphyseal pubic surface.

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Data availability

DOI https://osf.io/867md/.

Code availability

The sample studied in this work belongs to the osteological collection of the Laboratory of Anthropology of the University of Granada, the software used for the analysis of the data is open source.

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Acknowledgments

This paper is dedicated to the memory of Dennis E. Slice (1958– 2019), late Professor of Scientific Computing at Florida State University and Honorarprofessor of Anthropology at the University of Vienna, whose mastery of all aspects of forensic investigations like these—not only their morphometrics but also their biology—is already sorely missed among the community he left behind. Thanks to Nicole Grunstra, Stephanie Schnorr and Lumila Menendez for the feedback that allowed us to polish the manuscript and Fernando Navarro Merino for helping with the data collection. A special mention to Martina Traindl-Prohazka for assessing the sample using the Todd method. We also want to thank the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research and all its members as an essential part of the intellectual and personal development needed to accomplish this work. At last, thanks to the NVIDIA Corporation (GPU-Grant).

Funding

This research was supported by the Ernst Mach scholarship 56513 from the OeAD (Austrian Agency for International Cooperation in Education and Research) and by a writing-up fellowship from the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research both to GBM. BF was supported by the Austrian Science Fund FWF (Elise Richter grant no. V 826-B).

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Correspondence to Guillermo Bravo Morante.

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This work is part of the doctoral dissertation of the first author, Guillermo Bravo Morante, thereby coming under the appropriate intellectual property protections of its class. University of Granada, program of biomedicine: Human evolution. Physical and forensic anthropology. Title of the thesis: “Geometric morphometrics and 3D in physical anthropology, age-at-death estimation”.

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ESHE meeting 13–15 September 2018, Faro; Portugal as a poster.

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Bravo Morante, G., Bookstein, F.L., Fischer, B. et al. Correlation of the human pubic symphysis surface with age-at-death: a novel quantitative method based on a bandpass filter. Int J Legal Med (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00414-021-02555-6

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Keywords

  • Age-at-death estimation
  • Bending energy
  • Pubic symphysis
  • Bandpass filter
  • Geometric morphometrics