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Age-at-death estimation in an Italian historical sample: A test of the Suchey-Brooks and transition analysis methods


  • Kanya Godde,

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, School of Natural Sciences, University of California, Merced, CA 95343
    2. Department of Anthropology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996
    • School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, School of Natural Sciences, University of California Merced, 5200 N. Lake Rd, Merced, CA 95343, USA
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  • Samantha M. Hens

    1. Department of Anthropology, California State University, Sacramento, CA 95819
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A growing body of research is demonstrating increased accuracy in aging from a relatively new method, transition analysis. Although transition analysis was developed for paleodemographic research, a majority of subsequent studies have been in the forensic arena, with very little work in bioarchaeological contexts. Using the Suchey-Brooks pubic symphysis phases, scored on a target sample of historic Italians from the island of Sardinia, we compare accuracy of aging between transition analysis combined with a Bayesian approach and the standard Suchey-Brooks age ranges. Because of the difficulty in identifying a reasonable informative prior for bioarchaeological samples, we also compared results of both an informative prior and a uniform prior for age estimation.

Published ages-of-transition for the Terry Collection and Balkan genocide victims were used in conjunction with parameters generated from Gompertz hazard models derived from the priors. The ages-of-transition and hazard parameters were utilized to calculate the highest posterior density regions, otherwise known as “coverages” or age ranges, for each Suchey-Brooks phase. Each prior, along with the parameters, were input into cumulative binomial tests. The results indicate that the Bayesian approach outperformed the Suchey-Brooks technique alone. The Terry Collection surpassed the Balkans as a reasonable sample from which to derive transition analysis parameters. This discrepancy between populations is due to different within phase age-at-death distributions that reflect differences in aging between the populations. These results indicate bioarchaeologists should strive to apply a Bayesian analysis when aging historic and archaeological populations by employing an informative prior. Am J Phys Anthropol 149:259–265, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.