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Researchers discover the best method for determining the sex of skeletons by measuring the elbow

Examining the distal bone of the humerus (elbow) can be a better technique than the existing ones to identify sex in skeletal remains in non-Asian populations: this is the result achieved by a group of researchers from the School of Medicine of the University of Boston (BUSM).

Currently, forensic anthropologists determine the sex of a person’s remains, when these remains are represented only by the skeleton, the morphology of the pelvis or the skull or by the measurements of the longest bones. However, as Sean Tallman, professor of anatomy and neurobiology at BUSM explains, very often these areas are missing or damaged due to trauma, poor conservation or other causes. In many cases, therefore, it is substantially impossible to examine these areas of the skeleton with a good degree of precision.

The researchers examined more than 600 skeletons, 198 of female and 418 of male, from a collection located in Khon Kaen, Thailand. In the course of the analysis, as Tallman himself explains, the researchers found that when “classic” methods usually developed on non-Asian populations were applied to these skeletons, these same methods malfunctioned. In fact, most of the methods currently in use to determine sex through the remains of a skeleton were created and adapted by studying the skeletons of North American populations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The researchers found that in modern Thai individuals the measurement of the distal humerus differs between females and males and that this can be used as the best method for determining sex. The study was published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences.

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