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WIREs Forensic Sci

The use of transition analysis in skeletal age estimation

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Abstract The ability to produce accurate and precise age‐at‐death estimates from adult skeletal remains is critical for both forensic and bioarchaeological analyses. Despite many decades of investigation, anthropologists are still heavily reliant on methods that fail to adequately capture biological variation in skeletal aging and produce estimates that are insufficient for most applications. The Transition analysis (TA) by Boldsen et al. (2002) refers to a broad category of statistical approaches used to generate probabilistic information from binary or ordinal reference data as well as a specific method, Transition Analysis (TA) (Boldsen et al. 2002), that combines components of the cranial sutures and pelvic joints. The TA method uses free software to generate age estimates from the available trait scores, a statistical correction for the use of correlated features, and information about population mortality structure. Variations of the transition analysis approach have also applied to data from traditional age‐estimation methods, isolated areas of the skeleton, and many features distributed throughout the body. Investigations of TA and other transition analysis‐based approaches on archaeological, historic, and modern remains have demonstrated significant improvements in our ability to document skeletal variation, produce estimates in the upper half of the adult lifespan, and investigate patterns of mortality in the past. Despite these improvements, several challenges remain, including wide age intervals and systematic age‐estimation bias, particularly for individuals in the youngest and oldest portions of adulthood. Moving forward, component‐based approaches capable of producing individualized, probabilistic estimates using new skeletal features and user‐friendly software are needed. This article is categorized under: Forensic Anthropology > Age Assessment
Examples of logistic curves (solid black lines) for simulated trait data (black circles). The black dashed lines show an approximate 95% confidence interval for each curve. The vertical black dotted line indicates the median, or “age‐at‐transition.” Although the plots were generated from simulated data, all curves are similar to those commonly calculated from actual data. (a) A curve similar to those often seen for traits that occur in the late teens, 20s, and early 30s such medial clavicle epiphysis fusion. Because these curves provide probabilistic information for all of adulthood, even curves that span half, or more, of the adult lifespan, such as (c), are potentially useful when used in combination
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