Femoral histomorphometric age-at-death studies: The issue of sample size and standard error

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Extant histomorphometric aging methods based on the analysis of the femoral cortex generally report small samples (N<100) and highly variable standard error of the estimate (SEE) values (1.51–16.98 years). The present paper reviews the published literature on femoral histomorphometry for age-at-death estimation in order to examine the relationship between sample size and SEE values, and makes recommendations for minimum reporting requirements for age-at-death studies based on statistical data. The SEE from a total of 33 studies are analysed. Sample size and confidence intervals are explored using Hennig and Cooper’s simulation modelling. Analysis of effect size through a fixed-effect model is performed on 5/33 studies to examine the relationship between sample size and effect size. The pooled sex formulae from Nor et al., Martrille et al. and Thompson and the two sex-specific formulae of Pfeiffer are examined, as they report mean and standard deviation values for both chronological and estimated ages. The results of these analyses support sampling theory, specifically wide variation in SEE when N<100, narrowing as the sample size increases, and lower effect sizes in the larger of the five studies examined. The findings provide some support for a minimum threshold of 100– 150 individuals for histomorphometric age-at-death estimation. Analysis of effect size is suggested for future investigation in meta-analyses of forensic anthropological age-estimation studies. To ensure increased precision and meaningful comparison, large samples should be used for histomorphometry, and authors should report SEE and discrete statistics (e.g. n, mean, standard deviation) for both chronological age and estimated age.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)257-265
Number of pages9
JournalMedicine, Science and the Law
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020


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