In forensic anthropology the estimation of biological sex of unidentified human remains is critical, as it essentially halves the number of potential identities. Sex estimation is also important in bioarchaeology, because the creation of the biological profile is critical to the interpretation of different sociocultural aspects of past populations. Furthermore, certain aspects of the biological profile are sex specific, so it is important to be able to accurately determine biological sex (France 1998). Typically, biological sex is estimated by assessing sexually dimorphic differences within the pelvis and skull. However, because sexually dimorphic differences arise during puberty it is difficult, and oftentimes impossible, to use these traditional techniques on juveniles. Recently, human hair has gained prominence in anthropological research. This is particularly evident in bioarchaeology, where hair can be used to discern information concerning health, toxicology, culture, and diet of past populations. This study focuses on the relationship between the content of trace elements in hair and biological sex to determine if biological sex can be assessed from the content of trace elements in human head hair. Hair was collected from three human sample groups: modern living individuals, modern cadavers, and archaeological remains. Data on trace elements was collected using laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS). The statistical relationship between the content of trace elements and sex was then analyzed using a multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA), post-hoc analysis of variance (ANOVAs), and stepwise binary logistic regression. The MANOVA revealed a statistically significant multivariate main effect for sample group using mean values (p-value lt& 0.0001) and mean variance values (MVs) (p-value = 0.018). Given the significant results of the MANOVA test, the univariate main effects were examined with post-hoc ANOVA tests. Significant univariate main effects were obtained for mean values for C/Mg (p-value lt& 0.0001), C/Fe (p-value lt& 0.0001), C/Ca (p-value lt& 0.0001), and C/Sr (p-value lt& 0.0001). Significant univariate main effects were obtained for MVs for C/Mg (p-value = 0.016), C/Fe (p-value = 0.010), and C/Sr (p-value = 0.042). These preliminary results demonstrate that biological sex of humans can be accurately estimated through trace elemental analysis approximately 85% of the time in living samples, and 79% of the time overall. The results also demonstrate the viability of this technique for sex estimation in juvenile remains with approximately 83% success in predicting juvenile biological sex. This sets the stage establishing trace elemental analysis of hair as a technique for estimating biological sex which is critical to forensic individuation and identification as well as further contextualization of archaeological remains.


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Graduation Date





Dupras, Tosha


Master of Arts (M.A.)


College of Sciences



Degree Program










Release Date

February 2018

Length of Campus-only Access

1 year

Access Status

Masters Thesis (Open Access)

Included in

Anthropology Commons