Vertebral osteophytosis is recognised by outgrowths of bone on the margins of the vertebral body. These spurs have been shown to increase with age and are usually caused by increased spinal pressure. The purpose of this paper is to describe the pattern and severity of osteophyte development in the vertebral columns of male and female South Africans. A total of 101 male and 117 female morphologically normal vertebral columns were investigated. Osteophytes were visually assessed and scored between 0 (no osteophytosis present) and 4 (osteophytes fused together). The highest frequency and degree of projections was on C5, T11, T12, L3, L4 and L5, whereas the lowest frequency was observed on T2 and L1 in females and T2 in males In both the cervical and lumbar regions, osteophyte development was significantly more pronounced in males than females. Possible reasons for differential osteophytic development throughout the vertebral column include the position of the vertebrae in relation to the line of gravity, mobility of the joint and weight bearing. A description of the normal pattern of osteophytic development across the spine is of great importance for the future development of reliable age-at-death techniques for South African groups. Copyright (c) 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.