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The Importance of The Skeletal System

Last week in our organ systems section we took a look at the skeletal system. The skeleton is a lot more important than support and structure. It can be very useful in identifying someone after death. When a skeleton is discovered, a forensic pathologist is not called in, instead, a forensic anthropologist deals with the case.

A forensic anthropologist is a specialist in all things bones.

We are going to briefly look at some structures of the body that helps forensic anthropologists when they try to identify a skeleton. Using different physical markers on the body, sex, stature, and race can be identified from just the bones. Skeletal abnormalities can be potentially used in determining a cause of death.

The pelvis is extremely useful for determining if a skeleton is male or female. A female pelvis has a wider pubic arch and shorter sacrum whereas a male has a narrow pubic arch and longer sacrum. Another characteristic that helps in determining sex is the skull. Male skulls tend to be larger and thicker than females and have more pronounced ridges and larger eye sockets.

The height of a person and their stature can be determined by looking at the femur, the longest bone in the body – present in the upper leg. A calculation has been created to estimate stature and it gives a great indication of a person’s height. However, age is important to factor in here as a person loses approximately one centimetre every decade after the age of 30.

Age itself can be determined by looking at many different bones. To determine if an individual is a child, under the age of 21, the teeth are examined. Next, they look at the long bones such as the tibia. Growth plates tend to seal in the late teens, and this can help to determine a rough estimate of a person’s age.

The clavicle is then examined. The growth plate of the clavicle is the last to seal at around the age of 25. An adult skeleton has 206 bones, whereas a child has many more as they are not all fused yet. The presence of arthritis in the bones can help a forensic anthropologist determine a person’s age.

A person’s ethnicity can be determined by looking at the skull. Historically, we can all be classified into one of three groups, mongoloid, negroid or caucosoid. These are very broad groupings but measuring the distances between different landmarks on the skull and making measurements can help a forensic anthropologist determine which group a person’s ancestry is from and they can then carry out further research to find out their exact ethnicity.

Past fractures are still present in your skeleton today. If you broke your arm as a child whilst riding a bike, a forensic anthropologist would still be able to see evidence of this today due to the bone remodelling. Other markers of past traumas include evidence of bone cancer.

As you can see, the skeletal system is very beneficial even after death!


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