What is Human Osteology? And why do we need it?

23 Feb

Firstly, welcome to my first post.  This is a new outing for both of us.  One that I hope will be entertaining, educational and, above all, worthwhile.  The aim of this blog is to give an introduction to people interested in human osteology & its applications in archaeology and the wider world.  This will be through regular updates on the basics of human osteology.

Firstly, what is human osteology? 

As Jurmain et al (2011) note, human osteology is the study of skeletal material and focuses on the identification, interpretation and study of human skeletal remains from archaeological sites.  The key aspects

Denmark Neolithic Erteboelle Culture

studied are the skeletal anatomy present, bone physiology and morphology, growth and development in the available material.  The study of archaeology (past material remains) presents the humans of today to get to know the humans of the past, to open up the secrets of our ancestors.  By incorporating the study of human skeletal data with the palaeoenvironmental, zooarchaeology, & site excavation investigations, we can arrive at a point where knowledge converges. This convergence of holistic approaches means human osteology can be used in many contexts, such as palaeontological work and forensic anthropology.  Which leads us onto the second key point…

What is the importance of human osteology?

Clarke (2003: 1) states that ‘skeletal remains offer an important source of information for the study of human variation’, that through the study of skeletons we can interpret the past lifeways of bygone people, cultures and populations. We can divine population characteristics, personal idiosyncracies, dietary behaviour & widespread trends throughout our history by scientifically studying skeletal remains.  Yet, it is not just in the studyof the past that human osteology can offer its services.  It is still a vital tool today for worldwide use.  From instances of identifying and reburying victims of genocide from Saddan’s Iraq, Communist Russia and Franco’s Spain, discovering and uncovering victim of past and present natural disasters, to identifying the victims of terrorism from the 9/11 attack, right through to discovering our oldest hominid cousin in the Afar desert in Ethiopia; human osteology has a key role in all of these investigations (Jurmain et al 2011, White & Folkens 2005).

The applications of archaeological data sets of skeletal remains are numerous and have implications in a number of fields; ranging from the medical, anthropological and historical.  Expect a later post in more detail regarding the use of skeletons in archaeological research.

Future posts will be on a variety of aspects in human osteology. These will include identifying human material, form & function of anatomical bone elements, toegther with aging and sexing skeletal remains.  As well as a discussion of palaeopathology, trauma, disease, cultural modifications and biochemistry in different contexts.  Alongside this some comparative evolution of hominids & a discussion of the ethics and morals of digging up skeletons and displaying remains will be considered.

However, we must not forget the archaeological contexts of the human remains we study.  By integrating several key disciplines such as zooarchaeology, environmental archaeology & anthropology, we can arrive at a holistic approach in investigating our shared past.

Oh, I’ll also talk about any exciting volunteer bone finds and personal examples of bone mayhem…

14 Responses to “What is Human Osteology? And why do we need it?”

  1. Rixx (TZP) February 24, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

    Excellent blog! Subscribed!! 🙂 Look forward to new posts!

    • These Bones Of Mine February 24, 2011 at 11:10 pm #

      Thank you Ricky! However, I needed to edit the post again, let me know if you spot any more grammatical errors!

  2. trisha June 17, 2013 at 9:41 am #

    its hard !!!!!!!!!!! its so crazyyyyy in mind

  3. trisha June 17, 2013 at 9:42 am #

    it so very hard

    • These Bones Of Mine June 18, 2013 at 5:50 pm #

      You’ll get there!

      • dixstixz November 12, 2014 at 12:02 am #

        where is the list of references in case we want to read up the investigations mentioned.

        • These Bones Of Mine November 12, 2014 at 11:27 am #

          I haven’t done any for this entry but they are all over the blog!

  4. Nkule February 9, 2016 at 10:33 am #

    I’m a student and i do Anatomy as a module and we are doing osteology so I have to know it like it or not. Thanks to you and I will ask for help anytime.

    • These Bones Of Mine February 10, 2016 at 12:49 am #

      Thank you for your lovely comment Nkule! Hope this message finds you well.

  5. Susan Elaine Jones January 22, 2017 at 7:28 pm #

    Yes we need osteology… I’m just an amateur (layman enthusiast) but constantly being amazed how brilliant bones are and how they can teach us new things….

    • These Bones Of Mine January 22, 2017 at 7:32 pm #

      We certainly do Susan! Thank you for your comment, I’ve been looking through your site and enjoying what I’ve seen thus far.


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