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Am J Phys Anthropol. 1996 Mar;99(3):473-85.

Mandibular ramus flexure: a new morphologic indicator of sexual dimorphism in the human skeleton.

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Department of Anatomy and Human Biology, University of the Witwatersrand Medical School, Parktown, South Africa.


In the skeleton, male and female characteristics lie along a continuum of morphologic configurations and metric values. Size alone is not the best indicator of sex. In contrast, morphologic differences that arise from genetically sex-linked growth and development allow better separation of the sexes. This study presents a new morphologic indicator of sexual dimorphism in the human mandible. A sample of 300 mandibles from adults of known sex primarily from the Dart collection was analyzed. Of these, 100 were found to have obvious bony pathologies and/or excessive tooth loss ("pathologic" sample). Thus, the normative sample consisted of 200 individuals (116 males, 84 females). Examination of morphologic features led to the discovery of a distinct angulation of the posterior border of the mandibular ramus at the level of the occlusal surface of the molars in adult males. Flexure appears to be a male developmental trait because it is only manifest consistently after adolescence. In most females, the posterior border of the ramus retained the straight juvenile shape. If flexure was noted, it was found to occur either at a higher point near the neck of the condyle or lower in association with gonial prominence or eversion. In the normative sample, overall prediction accuracy from ramus shape was 99%. When the "pathologic" sample was analyzed separately, 91.0% were correctly diagnosed. Because the African samples were overwhelmingly black, this trait was also tested on American samples (N = 247) of whites (N = 85), Amerinds (N = 66), and blacks (N = 96) that included a mix of healthy individuals and those with extensive tooth loss and evidence of pathology. The results were nearly identical to those of the "pathologic" African sample, with accuracies ranging from about 91% in whites and blacks to over 92% in Amerinds. Total accuracy for all African and American samples combined (N = 547) is 94.2%. In conclusion, at 99%, sexing from the shape of the ramus of a healthy mandible is on a par with accuracy attainable from a complete pelvis. Moreover, there is no record that any other single morphologic or metric indicator of sex (that has been quantified from the adult skeleton) surpasses the overall accuracy attained from the more representative mixed sample produced by combining all groups assessed in this study. The usefulness of this trait is enhanced by the survivability of the mandible and the fact that preliminary investigations show that the trait is clearly evident in fossil hominids.

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