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Reconsidering Osteoarthritis as a Skeletal Indicator of Age at Death

NCJ Number
American Journal of Physical Anthropology Volume: 170 Issue: 3 Dated: 2019
Date Published
5 pages

Since osteoarthritis (OA) generally increases with age, but is a complex, multifactorial disease, this study examined whether obesity, physical activity, and antemortem trauma preclude the use of OA for skeletal age estimation.


The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and all appendicular joints were scored for skeletal indicators of OA in 408 modern European]Americans (Bass Collection, TN). Binomial generalized linear models (GLMs) assessed the contributions of self]reported demographic data to OA, including age, body mass index (BMI), and metabolic values for physical activities. Repeated resampling tested whether observed mean OA scores for joints with trauma consistently exceeded mean scores for unaffected joints. Single]variable GLM probit models were generated for OA presence/absence data in relevant joints. Age was the only statistically significant predictor of OA in most multivariable GLMs. Occupation and age were both significant predictors of male hand OA; BMI was the only significant predictor of female ankle OA. Trauma significantly affected OA in most joints. Age cut offs calculated from the single variable probit models (representing ages of transition to OA present) ranged from 29.7 to 77.3 years (90 percent) and 32.7 to 96.6 years (95 percent), but were problematic for the male TMJ. This report advises that ankle OA should not be used to age females, and TMJ OA should not be used to age males. For other joints, using OA to inform age estimates appears valid in the absence of antemortem trauma. Although skeletal evidence of OA is not a primary age indicator, this report advises that its presence can refine age ranges and provide essential age data in fragmentary cases. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2019