Ossification Degrees of Cranial Sutures Determined with Flat-Panel Computed Tomography: Narrowing the Age Estimate with Extrema


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Marcel A. Verhoff, M.D.
Department of Legal Medicine
University of Gießen
Frankfurter Straße 58
35392 Gießen
E-mail: Marcel.A.Verhoff@forens.med.uni-giessen.de


Abstract:  Since Broca’s time (1824–1880), ossification of the neurocranial sutures has been used as a characteristic of age. Current approaches include the visual macroscopic examination of ecto and endocranial sutures. The evaluation of the cross-section of sutures usually necessitates the destruction of the neurocranium. In a nondestructive alternative approach that was tested within the context of the “Digital Forensic Osteology” project that ran in cooperation with the Virtopsy®-Project, it emerged that the resolution of conventional multi-slice computed tomography data sets was not high enough to image sutures. Thus for the experiments presented here, the eXplore Locus Ultra flat-panel computed tomography scanner from GE Healthcare was used. Calottes were scanned during autopsy and then immediately returned to the corpse. So far, the skullcaps of 221 individuals have been scanned. The cross-sections of 14 suture segments could be assessed for seven previously defined stages of ossification. In a converse step, the 14 highest and lowest age estimate values corresponding to the individual stages of suture closure found were estimated for each calotte. The obtained ranges narrowing down the age estimate were evaluated with statistics. A mean value of 43.31 years for the range of narrowed age estimates shows that this method can be a useful aid in estimating age. The results of intra- and inter-observer tests showed good overall agreement between the findings of three observers. This method is suitable for a nondestructive age estimation and can be used for the entire calotte.