Original paper

Distinguishing between the bone fragments of medium-sized mammals and children. A histological identification method for archaeology

Cuijpers, Saddha

Anthropologischer Anzeiger Volume 67 No. 2 (2009), p. 181 - 203

published: Jun 1, 2009

DOI: 10.1127/0003-5548/2009/0021

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ArtNo. ESP140006702007, Price: 29.00 €

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In archaeology, it is not always possible to identify bone fragments. A novel approach was chosen to assess the potential of histology as an identification tool. Instead of studying a few bones of different categories from many species, this study concentrated on the diaphyses of long bones in four species of comparable size which are relevant to archaeology; young humans, pigs, sheep and goats, to broaden the insight into variations in diaphyseal bone structure within and between these species. A general difference in the primary bone structure was found between children older than one year and the three medium-sized mammals, namely lamellar vs. fibro-lamellar primary bone. Although, the diaphyseal bone structure of children below the age of one year also showed (developing) fibro-lamellar bone, its composition was distinctive from the medium-sized mammals. A difference in the secondary bone structure was also observed. Connecting (Volkmann's) canals, giving the secondary bone a reticular aspect, were seen in the medium-sized mammals but not in the young human long bones. To confirm the validity and applicability of these observed histological differences, a blind test was conducted on 14 diaphyseal fragments of identified long bones from archaeological sites. The results were very promising. All the bone fragments were correctly attributed using the difference in primary bone structure, even when the bone was severely degraded.


histologyspecies differentiationbone microstructurechildrenpigssheepgoatsarchaeological bone fragmentscremated remains