Towards a new osteometric method for sexing ancient cremated human remains. Analysis of Late Bronze Age and Iron Age samples from Italy with gendered grave goods
Public Library of Science (PLoS) -- PLOS ONE
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0209423

Sex estimation of human remains is one of the most important research steps for physical anthropologists and archaeologists dealing with funerary contexts and trying to reconstruct the demographic structure of ancient societies. However, it is well known that in the case of cremations sex assessment might be complicated by the destructive/transformative effect of the fire on bones. Osteometric standards built on unburned human remains and contemporary cremated series are often inadequate for the analysis of ancient cremations, and frequently result in a significant number of misclassifications. This work is an attempt to overcome the scarcity of methods that could be applied to pre-proto-historic Italy and serve as methodological comparison for other European contexts. A set of 24 anatomical traits were measured on 124 Bronze Age and Iron Age cremated individuals with clearly engendered grave goods. Assuming gender largely correlated to sex, male and female distributions of each individual trait measured were compared to evaluate sexual dimorphism through inferential statistics and Chaktaborty and Majumder’s index. The discriminatory power of each variable was evaluated by cross-validation tests. Eight variables yielded an accuracy equal to or greater than 80%. Four of these variables also show a similar degree of precision for both sexes. The most diagnostic measurements are from radius, patella, mandible, talus, femur, first metatarsal, lunate and humerus. Overall, the degree of sexual dimorphism and the reliability of estimates obtained from our series are similar to those of a modern cremated sample recorded by Gonçalves and collaborators. Nevertheless, mean values of the male and female distributions in our case study are lower, and the application of the cut-off point calculated from the modern sample to our ancient individuals produces a considerable number of misclassifications. This result confirms the need to build population-specific methods for sexing the cremated remains of ancient individuals.