Asymmetry of the os pubis: Implications for the Suchey-Brooks method



Studies of skeletal development frequently document populational incidences of bilateral asymmetry. Degenerative morphological skeletal changes, attributed to age related and irregular ossification, may also progress asymmetrically, either as the result of asymmetric biomechanical factors expressed over the lifespan, asymmetric expression of physiological processes, or progressive magnification of asymmetry acquired previously during development. This study illustrates the effects of bilateral asymmetry on age at death estimates obtained from human skeletal remains. The Suchey-Brooks method, which uses the pubic symphyseal face for age estimation (Katz and Suchey, Am J Phys Anthropol 69 1986 427–435), was selected for the study based on its widespread use. Asymmetry in the Suchey-Brooks symphyseal age phases was found in over 60% of a sample composed of 20th century White male individuals from 18 to 86 years of age (N = 130). However, results suggest that the presence of asymmetry does not compromise the accuracy of the Suchey-Brooks method if the morphologically older symphyseal face of an asymmetric individual is used to estimate age at death. In addition, weak directional asymmetry and a correlation between age and asymmetry were found. This suggests that a comparison of asymmetry in this area with that in other skeletal areas, where the factors originating and influencing asymmetry are better understood, may be useful in better understanding the biological processes which underlie the age markers used in the Suchey-Brooks method. Am J Phys Anthropol 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.