The measurement of the human body, its component parts and relative dimensions, such as body weight, height, length of limbic bones, pelvic bones, skull, etc., is known as anthropometry. Anthropometry is a scientific tool presently used in several fields including medicine, anthropology, archaeology, and forensic science to study and compare relative body proportions among human groups and between genders. For instance, by comparing relative body and bone proportions between two groups of children of the same age, under normal and abnormal conditions, physicians can determine the impact of malnourishment upon the physical development during childhood. Anthropologists compare cranial and body proportions to identify sets of characteristics common to individuals of a given population and the morphological differences among populations. Paleontologists are able to tell historical periods using anthropometry—such as whether a set of skeletal remains pertains to a Neanderthal (man, woman, or child) or to a Homo sapiens.
Anthropology is the discipline that has developed anthropometrical comparison studies into a set of reliable standardized data and mathematical formulae, which are now useful for both modern forensic science and archaeology. Presently, anthropometry is a well-established forensic technique, which uses anthropological databanks to calculate computational ratios of specific bones and skull features associated with differences between genders and with specific populations. For instance, the size and conformation of pelvic bones and skull structures can indicate gender; the length of the long bones of limbs allows the estimation of height.
Watch this short youtube video for an example of what types of questions anthropologists can ask and answer about human remains that are discovered.
Station 6: Sexing human skeletons
When human skeletal materials are recovered in a forensic context, the often the first questions asked are “was this a male or female?” and “how old was this individual?”. In answering the former, anthropologists typically look to the skull and the pelvis for the clearest evidence.
Read through the descriptions of the differences between typically male versus typically female features on skulls. Then, analyze the 3D skulls below, and attempt to determine whether you think each specimen is male or female. NOTE: We classify traits as “more male” and “more female” to indicate that they are just tendencies toward one end of a scale or the other. There are often cases where a male skull may exhibit a “typcially female” characteristic, or vice versa.
|Feature||Skull 1||Skull 2|
|Overall skull size|
|Supraorbital ridge size|
|Nuchal area (occipital protruberance)|
|Total # of Ms|
|Total # of Fs|
The pelvis of an individual also provides significant clues to their sex. Look over the comparative observations below, and then attempt to identify the sex of the two 3D pelves.
Based on the differences outlined above, try to determine the sex of the following two pelves.
|Feature||Pelvis 1||Pelvis 2|
|greater sciatic notch|
|pelvic inlet (pelvic cavity)|
|Total # of Ms|
|Total # of Fs|