First Advisor

Marc R. Feldesman

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Anthropology






Sex differences, Humerus



Physical Description

1 online resource (80 pages)


Visual and metric analysis both provide accepted methods for sex determination in humans. Visual ascertainment uses differing morphological traits in males and females to establish sex. Researchers have continually sought accurate methods of sexing long bones when skulls or pelves are absent or fragmented. These long bone elements may not have sexually distinct characteristics, but tend to survive in the field quite well.

Metric analysis depends on size dimorphism between males and females to correctly assign sex. Metric methods fail where the sexes overlap or when skeletal elements cannot be assigned to their correct biological population. Under these conditions, visual ascertainment is extremely useful. It relies on descriptive features, not size, to interpret the shape variations between male and female elements. For example, physiological soft tissue variations in the "carrying angle'" of the arm at the humero-radioulnar junction are known to be sexually dimorphic; therefore, the hard tissue features of the distal humerus also should be sexually dimorphic.

I observed six distinct visual characteristics of the distal humerus to determine sex in a blind study conducted on 649 individuals sampled from diverse biological populations. In addition to visual assessment, I collected four humeral measurements to determine whether quantitative analysis would be a better indicator of sex than non-metric analysis. I used nonparametric statistical methods to examine· the significance of each morphological feature and its relationship to known sex. All characteristics showed a high association with sex, and the relationships between sex and each characteristic were statistically strong. The final predictive quality of this method was 84% regardless of population; I concluded that my visual method is a dependable sex predictor among diverse populations. Every biological group varied considerably in size dimensions, but exhibited common morphological features of the distal humerus. This confirms that visual techniques provide accurate results regardless of biological affiliation. In many cases, visual assessment was as accurate or more accurate than metric analysis. Therefore, the distal humerus and its unique physical features provide an alternative method to previously used quantitative techniques in the determination of sex.


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