Auricular Surface Morphology:

Changes in the morphology of the auricular surface have been studied by C. Owen Lovejoy and co-workers (1985) to determine age at death using the point of articulation of the innominate and sacrum.   The method described below was taken from their publication, the drawing from Buikstra et al. (1994).   While arguably a bit more difficult to learn than the pubic symphysis aging method, it does afford a greater age range, permitting estimation up to age 60+ years.  This area is also more often preserved in the depositional context than the friable pubic face.


Phase 1.  Transverse billowing and very fine granularity.  Auricular surface displays fine granular texture and marked transverse organization.  There is no porosity, retroauricular or apical activity.  The surface appears youthful because of broad and well organized billows, which impart the definitive transverse organization.  Raised transverse billows are well defined and cover most of the surface.  Any subchondral defects are smooth edged and rounded.  (Age: 20-24)

Phase 2.  Reduction of billowing but retention of youthful appearance.  Changes from the previous phase are not marked and are mostly reflected in slight to moderate loss of billowing, with replacement by striae.  There is no apical activity, porosity, or retroauricular activity.  The surface still appears youthful owing to marked transverse organization.  Granulation is slightly more coarse.  (Age: 25-29)

Phase 3.  General loss of billowing, replacement by striae, and distinct coarsening of granularity.  Both demifaces are largely quiescent with some loss of transverse organization.  Billowing is much reduced and replaced by striae.  The surface is more coarsely and recognizably granular than in the previous phase, with no significant changes at apex.  Small areas of microporosity may appear.  Slight retroauricular activity may occasionally be present.  In general, coarse granulation supersedes and replaces billowing.  Note smoothing of surface by replacement of billows with fine striae, but distinct retention of slight billowing.  Loss of transverse organization and coarsening of granularity is evident.  (Age: 30-34)

Phase 4.  Uniform, coarse granularity.  Both faces are coarsely and uniformly granulated, with marked reduction of both billowing and striae, but striae may still be present.  Transverse organization is present but poorly defined.  There is some activity in the retroauricular area, but this is usually slight.  Minimal changes are seen at the apex, microporosity is slight, and there is no macroporosity.  (Age: 35-39)

Phase 5.  Transition from coarse granularity to dense surface.  No billowing is seen.  Striae may be present but are very vague.  The face is still partially (coarsely) granular and there is a marked loss of transverse organization.  Partial densification of the surface with commensurate loss of granularity.  Slight to moderate activity in the retroauricular area.  Occasional macroporosity is seen, but this is not typical.  Slight changes are usually present at the apex.  Some increase in macroporosity, depending on degree of densification.  (Age: 40-44)

Phase 6. Completion of densification with complete loss of granularity.  Significant loss of granulation is seen in most specimens, with replacement by dense bone.  No billows or striae are present.  Changes at apex are slight to moderate, but are almost always present.  There is a distinct tendency for the surface to become dense.  No transverse organization is evident.  Most or all of the microporosity is lost to densification.  There is increased irregularity of margins with moderate retroauricular activity and little or no macroporosity.  (Age: 45-49)

Phase 7.  Dense irregular surface of rugged topography and moderate to marked activity in periauricular areas.  This is a further elaboration of the previous morphology, in which marked surface irregularity becomes the paramount feature.  Topography, however, shows no transverse or other form of organization.  Moderate granulation is only occasionally retained.  The inferior face is generally lipped at the inferior terminus.  Apical changes are almost invariable and may be marked.  Increasing irregularity of margins is seen.  Macroporosity is present in some cases.  Retroauricular activity is moderate to marked in most cases.  (Age: 50-59)

Phase 8.  Breakdown with marginal lipping, macroporosity, increased irregularity, and marked activity in periauricular areas.  The paramount feature is a nongranular, irregular surface, with distinct signs of subchondral destruction.  No transverse organization is seen and there is a distinct absence of any youthful criteria.  Macroporosity is present in about one third of all cases.  Apical activity is usually marked, but is not requisite.  Margins become dramatically irregular and lipped, with typical degenerative joint change.  Retroauricular area becomes well defined with profuse osteophytes of low to moderate relief.  There is clear destruction of subchondral bone, absence of transverse organization, and increased irregularity.  (Age: 60+).

** NOTE:  Alison French collected the auricular surface data for the St. Stephen's project.


Literature Cited:

BUIKSTRA, J and DH UBELAKER.  (1994).  Standards for Data Collection from Human Skeletal Remains.  Proceedings of a Seminar at the Field Museum of Natural History,  Fayetteville:  Arkansas Archaeological Survey Research Series, No. 44.

LOVEJOY, CO, RS MEINDL, TR PRYZBECK, and RP MENSFORTH.  (1985).  Chronological Metamorphosis of the Auricular Surface of the Ilium:  A New Method for the Determination of Adult Skeletal Age at Death.  AJPA, 68:15-28.


To return to the Age Determination page, click here.   To view other Age Determination methods, click on the indicated link:
  pubic symphysis
  bone growth and development
  dental attrition
  epiphyseal closure
  dental eruption

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