Master of Arts (MA)


Geography and Anthropology

Document Type



The goal of forensic anthropology is the analysis and identification of human skeletal remains in a medicolegal context (Byers 2005:1-2). A forensic anthropologist can determine the age of subadult remains by various means, including dentition, centers of ossification, cranial suture closure, and epiphyseal union. Epiphyseal union is when all bones have completed their growth and fused, which happens for all bones by early adulthood. In this way, a forensic anthropologist can analyze the extent of epiphyseal union to determine the age of a deceased individual. This is done by comparing the skeletal remains to age-specific x-ray images of bones featured in various atlases. The only such atlas for the hand and wrist is Greulich and Pyle's Atlas of Skeletal Development of the Hand and Wrist (1959). By using this atlas forensic anthropologists can estimate the age of the decedent at his or her death and thereby assign an age range to the remains that will help law enforcement authorities to make a positive identification. Greulich and Pyle's atlas is nearly 50 years old and some researchers suggest it has become less accurate in its representation of growth and development stages in the hand and wrist. The onset of puberty as measured by the age at menarche is now earlier than in the past, and puberty coincides with specific changes in bone growth (Eveleth and Tanner 1990:207). To determine the extent of potential error in Greulich and Pyle's Atlas of Skeletal Development of the Hand and Wrist, I studied the current x-rays of the hand and wrist in subadults of known ages and sex. My study revealed that the epiphyseal union of the hand and wrist of contemporary subadults is not significantly different than the data represented in the Atlas of Skeletal Development of the Hand and Wrist. This suggests that there has not been a substantial increase in the rate of development as a result of secular change. As such, the standards created by Greulich and Pyle remain accurate and should continue to be used for the identification of age in subadult remains.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Mary Manhein