Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Dawnie W. Steadman, Giovanna M. Vidoli

Committee Members

Amy Z. Mundorff


One task of a forensic anthropologist is to assist law enforcement in the identification of unknown human skeletal remains by building a biological profile. Age-at-death estimations are an informative aspect of biological profiles as they help law enforcement narrow down potential victim identifications. However, age-at-death estimation continues to be a challenge within forensic anthropology due to the uncertainty regarding method selection and the production of a final estimate for law enforcement.The purpose of this research is to identify the age-reporting strategies that provide the most accurate and reliable (low inaccuracy and low bias) age-at-death estimations when evaluated by total sample, age-cohort (20-39; 40-59; 60-79), and sex. The age-reporting strategies in this study were derived from six age-at-death estimation methods and tested on 58 adult individuals (31 males and 27 females) from the William M. Bass Donated Skeletal Collection, at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. An experience-based approach where the observer produced a final estimation using the data collected and their expert judgment was included to assess the appropriateness of experience-based estimations in medico-legal contexts. Two-way repeated measures ANOVAs were conducted to determine if there were significant differences in reliability between the age-reporting strategies.The results show that the most accurate and reliable age-reporting strategy varied if the sample was evaluated as a whole, by age, or by sex. The most accurate and reliable strategy for the total sample was the experience-based approach. When the sample was divided by age Suchey-Brooks pubic symphysis performed the best for the 20-39 age-cohort, the experience-based approach for the 40-59 age-cohort, and Buckberry-Chamberlain auricular surface for the 60-79 age-cohort. Finally, when separated by sex, Hartnett pubic symphysis performed the best for males and the experienced-based approach performed the best for females.While none of the age-reporting strategies evaluated in this study were consistently the most accurate and reliable for all of the sample categories, the experience-based approach performed well in each category. This research helps shed light on the performance of different age-reporting strategies and provides further support to the reliance on multiple aging indicators and professional judgment in developing a final age-at-death estimation.

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