Foot bones allow researchers to determine sex of skeletal remains

Feb 29, 2012
The tarsals are the bones that make up the ankle, heel and rear part of the arch in a human foot. Researchers have developed means of determining the biological sex of partial skeletal remains using these bones. Credit: Troy Case, North Carolina State University

Law enforcement officials who are tasked with identifying a body based on partial skeletal remains have a new tool at their disposal. A new paper from North Carolina State University researchers details how to determine the biological sex of skeletal remains based solely on measurements of the seven tarsal bones in the feet.

"Tarsals are fairly dense bones, and can be more durable than other bones – such as the pelvis – that are used to determine biological sex," says Dr. Troy Case, an associate professor of anthropology at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the research. "Also, the tarsal bones are often enclosed in shoes, which further protects them from damage. That's particularly useful in a forensic context." The tarsals are the seven bones that make up the ankle, heel and rear part of the arch in a human foot.

Researchers looked at the tarsal bones of 160 men and women of modern European-American descent, taking length, breadth and height measurements for each bone, with the exception of the calcaneus. For the calcaneus, or heel bone, researchers measured only its length.

Previous studies had shown that the talus – or ankle bone – and calcaneus can be fairly good indicators of biological sex. However, little research had been done on the other tarsal bones, which are significantly smaller.

The researchers found that the tarsal bones of the right foot are generally more reliable indicators for determining biological sex. For example, the length of the talus on the right foot correctly determined biological sex 90 percent of the time.

However, a single measurement can be misleading. For example, a woman may be particularly tall, or a man particularly short. So the researchers looked at combinations of measurements from multiple bones, which allow them to measure the relative size of the bones to each other.

For example, researchers found that looking at the height of the talus along with the length of the third cuneiform bone – in the center of the foot – allowed them to determine the biological sex of a skeleton with 93.6 percent accuracy.

While the research has clear forensic science applications, it may also help researchers studying ancient populations. "We evaluated remains of modern European-Americans, so our findings are not directly applicable to ancient populations," Case says. "However, it does tell us which tarsal bones are most indicative of biological sex. So, if you have a large number of skeletons, and some of them can be sexed based on skull or pelvis measurements, you could use the information we've provided on tarsals to create equations for sexing the other in that group based solely on tarsal ."

Explore further: Earliest ancestor of land herbivores discovered

More information: The paper, "Sexual Dimorphism in the Tarsal Bones: Implications for Sex Determination," will appear in the March issue of the Journal of Forensic Sciences.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study finds that overweight people really are big-boned

Mar 22, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- One of the blind spots in forensic science, particularly in identifying unknown remains, is the inability of experts to determine how much an individual weighed based on his or her skeleton. ...

Scavenger birds chew the fat

Sep 08, 2008

Humans aren't the only ones who like fatty foods - bearded vultures do, too. A study by Antoni Margalida from the Bearded Vulture Study and Protection Group in El Pont de Suert, Spain, has found that the bearded vulture will ...

Recommended for you

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

10 hours ago

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

11 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

Deadly human pathogen Cryptococcus fully sequenced

Within each strand of DNA lies the blueprint for building an organism, along with the keys to its evolution and survival. These genetic instructions can give valuable insight into why pathogens like Cryptococcus ne ...

Researchers discover target for treating dengue fever

Two recent papers by a University of Colorado School of Medicine researcher and colleagues may help scientists develop treatments or vaccines for Dengue fever, West Nile virus, Yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and other ...