Identification of the Archaeological 'Invisible Elderly': An Approach Illustrated with an Anglo-Saxon Example

C. Cave, M. Oxenham*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    29 Citations (Scopus)


    The aim of this paper is to present a method to facilitate age-at-death estimation of older individuals (generally those aged 50+years) in a representative cemetery sample. The purpose of disaggregating catch-all categories, such as 50+years, is to enable the exploration of the elderly (those in their 50s, 60s, 70s or 80s) in the context of mortuary archaeology, bioarchaeology and/or palaeopathology. The methodological steps include the following: (1) assessment of occlusal tooth wear in an Anglo-Saxon cemetery sample from Worthy Park, UK; (2) seriation of the sample, from youngest to oldest, based on the degree of tooth wear; (3) selection of an ethnographically derived model (known mortality profile) by which seriated individuals in the Worthy Park sample could be reallocated to more realistic or appropriate age classes; (4) reallocation of individuals in the seriated Worthy Park sample to the model age classes. A Hadza, Tanzania, hunter-gatherer profile was chosen to model the Worthy Park sample, although others are available. By using this model, some 66% of the entire adult sample, originally allocated to the single final age category of 45+years, was distributed across four new age categories from the mid-40s to mid-70s. Relatively straightforward, this approach provides a way to identify those individuals, 50+years old, not normally sensitive to traditional age-at-death estimation methodologies currently available.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)163-175
    Number of pages13
    JournalInternational Journal of Osteoarchaeology
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016


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