ABSTRACT: An age at death estimation equation that uses rib histological variables presented by Stout and Paine was used to evaluate a skeletal population of individuals with a known age at death and cause of death from either malnutrition or the niacin deficiency disease pellagra. The sample was comprised of 26 autopsied black South Africans. Histological analysis of mounted thin sections involved the microscopic measurement of cortical area and a count of the number of intact and fragmentary secondary osteons for the entire cross-section of the rib. Rib osteon population density values were then calculated for each case. It was found that this equation under-aged individuals on average by 29.2 years. Overall, secondary osteon size and Haversian canals tended to be larger than expected, while cortical bone area was less when compared with a control population. The implications of these findings are critical given that many of the skeletal remains examined by forensic anthropologists come from marginalized backgrounds, including malnutrition. This research suggests that measurements based on healthy cases may not be useful in an analysis of individuals with poor diet and health. It is argued that new standards for histological age assessment methods need to be created that account for variation in the health status of individuals examined by forensic anthropologists.
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