Stature estimation

The estimation of stature can greatly assist in the identification of unknown human skeletal remains. This estimation of antemortem living stature is dependent on the high correlation that exists between certain bone dimensions with body height. Unfortunately, this correlation is not always reliable within a living population, let alone between populations (White 1991).

Numerous studies have been performed on the human skeleton in an effort to devise ways of estimating stature of the deceased (Manouvrier 1892; Nat 1931; Trotter and Glesser 1952; 1958; Fully 1956; Oliver 1969; El-Najjar and McWilliams 1978; Bass 1987).

Of these methods, some have concentrated on simple ratios of long bone length to stature (Nat 1931), and at least one study has taken into account all of the bones contributing to stature (Fully 1956). Unfortunately, the latter method is limited since it requires the presence of the skull, lower limb bones, and the entire vertebral column (excepting C1), which is not always possible. In contrast to utilising multiple bones for stature estimation, others have considered using long bone fragments (Steele and McKern 1969). Techniques for estimating antemortem stature from segments of the humerus, radius and tibia have been devised. Furthermore, the humerus, tibia and femur are discussed by Steele and McKern (1969) and El-Najjar and McWilliams (1978, 95-103).

This review will only include data for Caucasian males, since this racial group applies to the Pandora remains. Perhaps the most respected and widely used methods for estimating stature from skeletal elements were first published by Trotter and Glesser (1952), who later revised their methods (Trotter and Gleser 1958). Their studies are considered to be the most reliable for a Caucasian population (Stewart 1979; Bass 1987). When using the updated formula from Trotter and Gleser (1958), the expected maximum stature should be reduced by the following amount when individuals are known to be over 30 years of age:

Corrected stature = [expected maximum stature - 0.6 (age in years -30)]cm

Trotter (1970) gave the following formulae which are considered to be amongst the most accurate for stature estimation (Stewart 1979). These equations apply to individuals between the ages of 18-30. To estimate the stature of older individuals, apply the above formula (Trotter and Gleser 1958).

Stature (cm)
= 1.30 (Femur + Tibia) + 63.29 (+/-2.99)
= 2.38 Femur + 61.41 (+/-3.27)
= 2.68 Fibula + 71.78 (+/-3.29)
= 2.52 Tibia + 78.62 (+/-3.37)
= 3.08 Humerus + 70.45 (+/-4.05)
= 3.78 Radius + 79.01 (+/-4.32)
= 3.70 Ulna + 74.05 (+/-4.32)

Stature calculations for white males (taken from Trotter 1970)

Various authors have demonstrated that estimation is complicated by racial differences among population samples (Dwight 1894; Stevensen 1929; Dupertius and Hadden 1951; Krogman 1962; Genoves 1967; Trotter and Gleser, 1952; 1958). The racial affiliation of samples must be known, and the appropriate formulae or tables used (Bass 1987).

The Pandora collection of skeletal material contained several bones which provided a source for antemortem stature estimation. However, many of these bones were fragmented, rendering most conventional techniques useless or unreliable. The most suitable techniques for estimating antemortem stature were applied to long limb bones belonging to Tom, Dick, and Harry. Techniques provided by Trotter and Gleser (1952; 1958) are considered to be the most reliable for a Caucasian population (Stewart 1979; Bass 1987). The results for each individual are outlined below.

Stature estimation for Tom

The skeletal remains of Tom presented a problem when it came to the estimation of stature. Tom was significantly younger than Dick and Harry and therefore demonstrated many incompletely fused epiphyses. While these epiphyses would not necessarily be problematic for stature calculations, in this case they were, owing to the amount of degradation that had taken place over a period of two centuries.

Where an epiphysis is less than 100% fused to the diaphysis, a postmortem bone is presented with a point of structural weakness, and some taphonomic processes have a focal point for the accelerated destruction of bone. This localised frailty can in turn lead to the structural breakdown of the epiphysial region of the bone, resulting in incomplete long bone length. There are techniques available for calculating stature from fragmented long bones (El-Najjar and McWilliams, 1978, 95-103), but, coincidentally, none of the long limb bones belonging to Tom provided the correct anatomical landmarks for any such analysis. Furthermore, most of the skeletal remains of this individual remained in conservation for the duration of this study and were not available to be handled.

The least fragmented and therefore most reliable bones for the estimation of Tom's stature were the left and right radius. Of these, the right radius provided the best distal epiphysis, which was nearly intact. The length of this bone was measured at 236mm.

Knowing Tom was male, and assuming he was Caucasian, stature calculations could be performed using the regression formula provided by Trotter (1970), where:

Stature (cm) = 3.78 Radius + 79.01 (+/-4.32)
= (3.78 x 23.6) + 79.01
= 168.22 cm (+/-4.32cm)

Because Tom was under the age of 30, this figure did not require age correction. In summary, the best stature estimation for Tom was provided by applying the Trotter (1970) formula to the left radius and resulted in an estimate of 168 ± 4cm.

Stature estimation for Dick

Of Dick's skeletal remains available to this study, only two bones presented as suitable for stature estimation. These were the left radius and right humerus. A small distal portion of the radius was fragmented, leaving the exact length of this bone questionable. The humerus, however, was considered the more reliable, with no gross fragmentation. Again, calculations were made assuming Dick was a Caucasian male.

The lengths of these bones were recorded as follows:

Using the formula from Trotter (1970), stature was calculated as follows:

For the right humerus:

Stature (cm) = (3.08 x 31.5) + 70.45 (+/-4.05)
= 167.47 cm (+/-4.05cm)
= 167cm (+/-4cm)

Other parts of Dick's skeleton were recovered in 1986 and studied by Wood and Hodgson (1996). They estimated stature at 165 +/-3cm. In summary, the most reliable estimation of stature for Dick was 167 +/-4cm. This result was generally supportive of the original estimate calculated by Wood and Hodgson (1996) on other parts of the (apparently) same skeleton.

Stature estimation for Harry

Of the three Pandora skeletons, the remains of Harry provided the most abundant means for stature estimation. The long limb bones capable of stature estimation are listed below with their respective length measurements. Calculations were performed assuming Harry was a Caucasian male.

Using the updated formula provided by Trotter (1970), the most reliable stature calculation was as follows:

In summary, Harry's estimated stature was based on calculations from the left tibia, and resulted at 166 +/-3cm.

In a manner similar to the long-term trends seen for age determinants, stature has also been observed to increase steadily over the past 150 years (Tanner 1962; Clegg 1968). Techniques used for stature estimation of the Pandora remains were derived from a population nearly 100 years old, but still the Pandora individuals were from a population over 200 years old. In essence, because of such long-term changes, it is likely that the statures given for Tom, Dick, and Harry are slightly over-estimated.


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Last updated: Thu Mar 28 2002