Age related changes of rib cortical bone matrix and the application to forensic age-at-death estimation

Andrea Bonicelli, Peter Zioupos*, Emily Arnold, Keith D. Rogers, Bledar Xhemali, Elena F. Kranioti

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
16 Downloads (Pure)


Forensic anthropology includes, amongst other applications, the positive identification of unknown human skeletal remains. The first step in this process is an assessment of the biological profile, that is: sex, age, stature and ancestry. In forensic contexts, age estimation is one of the main challenges in the process of identification. Recently established admissibility criteria are driving researchers towards standardisation of methodological procedures. Despite these changes, experience still plays a central role in anthropological examinations. In order to avoid this issue, age estimation procedures (i) must be presented to the scientific community and published in peer reviewed journals, (ii) accurately explained in terms of procedure and (iii) present clear information about the accuracy of the estimation and possible error rates. In order to fulfil all these requirements, a number of methods based on physiological processes which result in biochemical changes in various tissue structures at the molecular level, such as modifications in DNA-methylation and telomere shortening, racemization of proteins and stable isotopes analysis, have been developed. The current work proposes a new systematic approach in age estimation based on tracing physicochemical and mechanical degeneration of the rib cortical bone matrix. This study used autopsy material from 113 rib specimens. A set of 33 parameters were measured by standard bio-mechanical (nanoindentation and microindentation), physical (TGA/DSC, XRD and FTIR) and histomorphometry (porosity-ImageJ) methods. Stepwise regressions were used to create equations that would produce the best 'estimates of age at death' vs real age of the cadavers. Five equations were produced; in the best of cases an equation counting 7 parameters had an R2 = 0.863 and mean absolute error of 4.64 years. The present method meets all the admissibility criteria previously described. Furthermore, the method is experience-independent and as such can be performed without previous expert knowledge of forensic anthropology and human anatomy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2086
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Early online date22 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes


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