Can osteophytes be used as age at death estimators?

Testing correlations in skeletonized human remains with known age-at-death

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Age-at-death estimation is one of the major challenges when establishing an adult skeleton biological profile. The presence of degenerative joint changes – e.g. osteophytes – has been regarded as a good postmaturity age indicator. This study assessed if a clear relationship between age and osteophytes exists. To accomplish this goal, a total of 16 joint surfaces, from the shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee, and ankle, were examined in 604 adult individuals, of both sexes from two Portuguese Identified collections. Individuals had between 20 and 98 year old at death. Statistically significant results were found between age-at-death and degrees of severity of osteophytes throughout all the articular surfaces analyzed (p > 0.001). However, the strength of the correlation varies from moderate to low in the majority of the joints, for both sexes. The only strong correlation effects (r = 0.567 in females and r = 0.552 in males) were found associated with the left and right glenoid cavity in females and males respectively. More noticeable changes were consistently found in association with older individuals (>62 years old). Results indicate that significant relationships exist between age and the presence of osteophytes in the joint margins. However, correlation effects were low to moderate in most cases, therefore the use of osteophytes to predict age-at-death is not without significant error of interpretation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-66
Number of pages8
JournalForensic Science International
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018



  • Adult skeletons
  • Biological age
  • Identified collections
  • Joints
  • Osteophytes

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