Age and sex bias in the reconstruction of past population structures



Palaeodemographical studies are founded on the assumption that the sex and age distribution of the skeletal sample reflects the constitution of the original population. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that the type and amount of information that may be derived from osteoarchaeological collections are related to the state of preservation of remains. This work proposes a new method to evaluate bone preservation, to identify age and sex biases in the preservation of human skeletal remains, and to assess whether differences in preservation patterns are more dependent on factors intrinsic or extrinsic to anatomical features of human bones. Three osteological collections and over 600 skeletons were observed. The state of preservation of human bones was assessed using three preservation indexes: the anatomical preservation index (API), the bone representation index (BRI), and the qualitative bone index (QBI). The results suggest that subadult skeletons are generally more poorly preserved and with bones less well-represented than adult skeletons. Among subadults, female and male skeletons have different patterns of preservation according to their age. This pattern of preservation depends on intrinsic anatomical properties of bones themselves, while external factors can only increase these differences in the state of preservation and representation of osseous remains. It is concluded from this that failure to recognize these differences may lead to misleading interpretations of paleodemography of past human populations. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2006. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.