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Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Publication details for Professor Charlotte Roberts

Ackroyd, R.G., Lucy, D. Pollard, A.M. & Roberts, C.A. (1999). Nasty, brutish, but not necessarily short: A reconsideration of the statistical methods used to calculate age at death from adult human and dental age indicators. American Antiquity 64(1): 55-70.

Author(s) from Durham


It is generally assumed that life expectancy in antiquity was considerably shorter than it is now. In the limited number of cases where skeletal or al age-at-death estimates have been made on adults for whom there are other reliable indications of age, there appears to be a clear systemtatic trend towards overestimating the age of young adults, and underestimating that of older individuals. We show that this might be a result of the use of regression-based techniques of analysis for converting age indicators into estimated ages. Whilst acknowledging the limitations of most age-at-death indicators in the higher age categories, we show that a Bayesian approach to converting age indicators into estimated age can reduce this trend of underestimation at the older end. We also show that such a Bayesian approach can always do better than regression-based methods in terms of giving a smaller average difference between predicted age and known age, and a smaller average 95-percent confidence interval width of the estimate. Given these observations, we suggest that Bayesian approaches to converting age indicators into age estimates deserve further investigation. In view of the generality and flexibility of the approach, we also suggest that similar algorithms may have a much wider application.