Sex determination of human remains from peptides in tooth enamel

Nicolas Stewart, Raquel Fernanda Gerlach, Rebecca L. Gowland, Kurt J. Gron, Janet Montgomery

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The assignment of biological sex to archaeological human skeletons is a fundamental requirement for the reconstruction of the human past. It is conventionally and routinely performed on adults using metric analysis and morphological traits arising from postpubertal sexual dimorphism. A maximum accuracy of ∼95% is possible if both the cranium and os coxae are present and intact, but this is seldom achievable for all skeletons. Furthermore, for infants and juveniles, there are no reliable morphological methods for sex determination without resorting to DNA analysis, which requires good DNA survival and is time-consuming. Consequently, sex determination of juvenile remains is rarely undertaken, and a dependable and expedient method that can correctly assign biological sex to human remains of any age is highly desirable. Here we present a method for sex determination of human remains by means of a minimally destructive surface acid etching of tooth enamel and subsequent identification of sex chromosome-linked isoforms of amelogenin, an enamel-forming protein, by nanoflow liquid chromatography mass spectrometry. Tooth enamel is the hardest tissue in the human body and survives burial exceptionally well, even when the rest of the skeleton or DNA in the organic fraction has decayed. Our method can reliably determine the biological sex of humans of any age using a body tissue that is difficult to cross-contaminate and is most likely to survive. The application of this method will make sex determination of adults and, for the first time, juveniles a reliable and routine activity in future bioarcheological and medico-legal science contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13649-13654
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Issue number52
Publication statusPublished - 11 Dec 2017

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This open access article is distributed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License 4.0 (CC BY-NC-ND).


  • sex determination
  • tooth enamel
  • amelogenin
  • human remains
  • mass spectrometry


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