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Extending the life course: developing new methods for identifying the 'elderly' in the archaeological record

Falys, C. G. (2012) Extending the life course: developing new methods for identifying the 'elderly' in the archaeological record. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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Abstract/Summary

Documentary evidence confirms the existence of the elderly in the past, but osteological ageing categories traditionally end at ‘46+ years’. Current techniques consistently underage the very old, rendering them ‘invisible’ in the archaeological record, and hindering any research into their social treatment in the past. To rectify this, degenerative traits of new regions of the skeleton were examined for their ability to aid in age estimation, beyond limits of current methods. Criteria were developed based on 630 white individuals (353 males, 277 females), with a minimum age of 40 years, from four known-age skeletal assemblages: Hamann-Todd (U.S.A.), Pretoria (South Africa), St Bride’s (London), and Coimbra (Portugal). The accuracy of established methods of the endocranium and pelvis were evaluated and revised where possible, and new criteria developed based on the cervical vertebrae, clavicle, manubriosternum, ilium and ischium. Distinct stages of degeneration were identified, resulting in new non-population specific ageing criteria, with concise 95% confidence intervals and broader age phases. A blind test of 90 individuals from Christ Church Spitalfields, confirmed the use of these new methods to accurately estimate age in 80-100% of individuals, depending on the region under study. Progressive changes to the clavicle, ischium and clavicular notch were most highly correlated with age, while the cervical spine, iliac crest, auricular surface, pubic symphysis and arachnoid granulations were least promising. Sexually dimorphic criteria were not required for the atlas, lateral end of the clavicle and ischium. Three new adult ageing methods are presented, and supplementary observations that will aid in the identification of the “elderly” in skeletal populations have been proposed. Further research to assess the relationship between asymmetrical observations and activity is required. The findings of this thesis provide the means to challenge the assumption that individuals did not live into old age in archaeological populations, and will allow life course studies to extend into the latest stages of life.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Lewis, M.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Human and Environmental Sciences
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Faculty of Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Department of Archaeology
ID Code:87245
Additional Information:Related URL is for supporting publication.

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