Volume 46, Issue 4 (July 2001)
Racial Variation in the Proximal and Distal Femur: Heritability and Forensic Utility
The femur has been studied successfully by physical anthropologists for many years. Such traits as femoral head diameter and bicondylar width have been examined extensively and are of great value to forensic anthropologists and other skeletal biologists in sex identification. A number of studies over the past decade by the author and his former students have shown marked racial differences in the shape of the proximal femur and in at least one trait of the distal femur—intercondylar notch height. Anteriorposterior (AP) diameter of the proximal femur is much greater among Whites and Blacks than among East Asians and American Indians. Blacks have slightly greater intercondylar notch height than Whites. Other features, such as torsion, also differ between the major geographic racial populations. Current analysis suggests that the East Polynesians fall close to the American Indians and East Asians in the degree of flatness of the proximal femur.
One study has tracked the degree of change in flatness during individual development, and finds little change within major populations from the youngest to the oldest individuals. Temporal changes within populations are likewise minimal. Two studies have examined sex differences within populations, which are also found to be very slight. Racial differences, on the other hand, are quite significant, and individuals of admixed ancestry fall intermediate between the two parental populations. Such suggestions of high heritability in the shape of the proximal and distal femur make these traits very useful in assessing ancestry in forensic contexts.