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The Basic Muscles In The Human Body

10 Mar

The muscles are the main contractile tissues of the body involved in movement.  They cause motion and produce force that the body uses to move and manipulate the body.  There are both conscious and subconscious movements of muscles in the body system of a human as a whole.

Each muscle also has its own blood supply, including an artery and vein, alongside  its own nerve connections.  These three supply vessels are often aligned tightly next to each other. Depending on the class of muscles we are looking at, or taken as a whole, the human body consists of around 640+ skeletal muscles.  As we are just looking at the basics to help understand where they are in relation to the major skeletal elements, I will not go into an in-depth discussion here just yet.

There are three kinds of muscles we need to know.

A) Firstly there is the skeletal muscle, which is used for locomotion and skeletal movement.  These muscles are often anchored by Tendons.  A tendon is simply a fibrous connective tissues, from the muscles to the bone elements.  A Ligament is often found in the joints of the body, and are connective fibrous tissues from bone to bone.  The movement of skeletal muscle is often a conscious decision.  The major muscles of the bum, the gluteal muscles, are some of the largest in the human body and are classed as skeletal muscle because they help locomotion of the thighs during ambulation.

B) The second type of muscle is the Smooth Muscle.  The smooth muscles are often found within the organs and structures of organs.  These movements tend to be subconscious, and help in the normal regulation of the human body.  An example of smooth muscle movement is in the use of swallowing food down the esophagus when eating, which involves the peristalsis movement.

C) The third type of muscle is the Cardiac Muscle.  As these muscles are only found within the heart, inside the pericardium sac; therefore detailed knowledge of this muscle collection is not needed when studying osteology.  The cardiac muscles are similar to the skeletal muscles.  However, they are subconscious as the heart beats at a fast and steady rate.

Below is the basic diagrams of the main muscles used in the movement of the modern  human body…

Anterior Muscles of the Human Body

Posterior Muscles of the Modern Human Body

Although this post was originally wrote a fairly long time ago, I have now finished the anatomy module of my MSc course here at the University of Sheffield.  This module composed of dissecting a human cadaver to help understand the vital soft tissues (muscles, nerves, arteries and fat) that are vital in the movement of a human.

I cannot say how vital this experience was in understanding the isolated, and even fully laid out, human skeleton.  It is vital in my opinion that practitioners of human osteology are given the chance to see how the flesh articulates, combines and moves with the skeletal anatomy.  Indeed, understanding the neuronal impulse from the brain, that then flows along the nervous system to engage the muscles to move,  and the skeleton to sustain and support that movement, is really key to understand the different elements, or systems, that make up the human body.

Skeletal Series B: The Biological Basis of Teeth and Anatomical Directional Terms

5 Mar

As mentioned in the previous post teeth are a distinct part of human anatomy and are of special interest to the human osteologist in archaeological contexts.  Teeth are the most resistant skeletal element to chemical or physical destruction during burial of human remains and as such are often over represented in the archaeological record.  As the only skeletal element that directly interacts with the environment (via mastication of food) teeth are a vital source of knowledge on the age, sex and diet of individuals and past populations (White & Folkens 2005).  There is now an extensive academic research body of materials and articles available on the study of both hominin and archaeological teeth.

Teeth in situation in the maxilla (upper jaw) and mandible (lower jaw) of a Saxon skull.

Origin & Anatomy

Dentition is often found in the lower and upper jaw of most animals, and are thought to have developed originally from fish scales (White & Folkens 2005, Shubin 2008).  Teeth throughout the animal kingdom have different uses, and come in a variety of different shapes and sizes.  Homo sapiens (modern-day humans) have two sets of teeth throughout their life.  Each set is located in the Mandible & Maxilla, and often refered to as the ‘dental arches’ or dental arcades”.  The deciduous dentition appears during early infancy and consist of around 20 individual teeth.  The permanent dentition gradually replaces the deciduous dentition, and is normally complete by around around 18 to 20 years of age, with females possibly exhibiting earlier eruption rates.  Typically the wisdom teeth (the 3rd molars) are the last to erupt fully towards the end of adolescence (Mays 1998).

The permanent dentition consists normally of 32 teeth with 8 teeth in each quadrant of the mandibular and maxilla dental arcades, although care has to be taken when noting the number from archaeological examples as teeth can easily fall out of the sockets.

Here is a basic diagram of the inside of a normal healthy molar tooth.  As you can see the second diagram shows the basics again but also introduces the 4 different teeth that the human dentition is composed of.  Enamel is one of the hardest biological substances and the hardest in man and, alongside the dentine, provides the main cutting framework for each tooth.  Unlike human bone tissue, the tooth cannot regrow or repair damage.

Basic anatomical details of a generic molar tooth.

Enamel is almost entirely inorganic material, mostly hydroxyapatite arranged in think rods whilst the “dentine is around 75% inorganic material (again hydroxyapatite) with a mainly collagen organic component” (Mays 1998: 11).

The general anatomy of teeth alongside the 4 classes of teeth In the human (Homo sapiens) dentition.

Again, please click on the above diagram for the detail to be clear.

The four classes of teeth in the human dentition consist of the following (White & Folkens 2005):

1) Incisors (4 altogether, two to each quadrant).  The incisors are  flat and blade like, whose main job is to cut the food before mastication takes place.

2) Canines (4 altogether).  The canines are tusk-like and are conical in shape.  Their main job is to pinch and grab the food helping to bring it into the mouth for mastication.

3) Pre-Molars (4 altogether).  They are rounder and shorter than the canine crowns (see below for directional and anatomical terms) and usually have two cusps.  They are used primarily for grinding the food.

4) Molars (6 altogether).  The molars have crowns that are squarer, larger, and bear more cusps than any other tooth.  They are used , along with the pre-molars, for grinding and chewing the food to make it more palatable and easier for the stomach to digest.

Standard Anatomical Directional Terminology

Here are some basics terms for tooth terminology and anatomical positions based on the White & Folkens manual (2005):

The Mesial portion of the tooth is the closest to the central incisors (see above diagram). The Distal portion of the tooth is the opposite of Mesial.  The Lingual part of the tooth faces the tongue, whilst the Labial portion faces the lips, and is only used for the incisors and canines.  The term Bucccal is used for the opposite of Lingual, for the Pre-Molars and Molars.  The Interproxmial surfaces contact the adjacent teeth.  The biting surface of both dental arches is called the Occlusal Surface.  The root of the tooth is called the Apical.  The Crowns are the enamel tops of each tooth, whilst the Cusps are the bumps on the Pre-Molars and Molars.

Cambridge Manuals On Human Evolution on the anthropology of modern teeth, a great core guide to how human teeth are studied in archaeology.

This is a basic guide  from White & Folkens (2005), does not include the very specific terminology for the cusps on the molars.  A handy guide to the introduction and more in-depth use of teeth is the book above.  In the human dentition the teeth as a whole have been noted as being very similar in design (or homogenized) in comparison to other species whilst the morphological variation of each class of tooth (think canine, molar etc) has increased over on each of the teeth (White & Folkens 2005).  This seems like a contradiction in terms but human teeth are designed for an omnivorous diet, meaning that that  our dentition is designed to chew both plant and meat foods for our dietary requirements.

When the teeth are found in relative isolation they can be sided and matched with relative ease to either the maxilla or mandible portions of the human skull.  This can be done by noting the wear patterns on the crowns of each tooth and by looking at the size and root variation of the tooth.  Generally speaking males tend to have larger teeth than females, although there are idiosyncrasies present throughout human evolution (Jurmain et al 2011).  A later post will include talks on the palaeopathology of tooth disease and trauma.  In the meantime this guide should help in providing the basic information.

Until next time, keep smiling! (A. Boisei reconstruction pictured – notice the large teeth made for chewing tough fibrous plant material and flesh).


Jurmain, R. Kilgore, L. & Trevathan, W.  2011. Essentials of Physical Anthropology International Edition. London: Wadworth.

Mays, S. 1999. The Archaeology of Human Bones. Glasgow: Bell & Bain Ltd.

Schwartz, J. H. 2007. Skeleton Keys: An Introduction to Human Skeletal Morphology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Shubin, N. 2008.  Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5 Billion Year History of the Human Body. London: Pantheon.

White, T. & Folkens, P. 2005. The Human Bone Manual. London: Elsevier Academic Press.

Skeletal Series A: The Biological Basis of Bone and Anatomical Directional Terms

28 Feb

The adult human skeleton consists of more than 200 separate bones (often around 206 individual elements) whilst the juvenile skeleton can have over 300 individual elements (predominately in newborn babies) (White & Folkens 2005).

Over time certain bones fuse to others (such as the os coxa or hip bone) to produce stable and protective environments once the soft tissues and the body have fully grown (i.e. the plates of the cranium once the brain has fully grown into it’s adult form).  This occurs in two main stages in the life of a human: during the early years of infancy and a second growth spurt during adolescence.  In life the skeleton can weight from between 12% to 20% of an individual persons weight.  Please click on the below picture to enlarge the diagram of the general skeletal elements found in the human skeleton.

Basic skeletal elements of Homo sapiens (humans).

Basic Role of Skeleton

The skeleton, and individual bones, act as both tissue and as organs (White & Folkens 2005).  Primarily the skeleton acts as a mechanical component for the musculo-skeletal system to allow movement of the body.  The skeleton provides a framework for organ protection and support for the body by helping to anchor muscles, tendons and ligaments; movement is achieved by the bones acting as rigid levers for the muscles to help produce movement (White & Folkens 2005: 31).  Important physiological functions of bone include the production of blood cells; bone can also acts as a storage for calcium and fatty deposits.

Skeletal Anatomy & Structure

Traditionally skeletal elements are classed around 4 main groups which are typically broken down into long bones (femur, tibia etc), short bones (carpals etc), flat bones (scapular etc) and irregular bones (Os coxae).  Bone is mainly consisted of a composite material of Hydroxyapatite (a mineral) and  Collagen (a protein).  It is amongst the strongest of biological materials: able to cope with a variety of high mechanical stress levels including bending and contortion pressures (White & Folkens 2005).

The basic structure of living bone is provided below.  On the outer surface of the bone is a membrane called the Periosteum in which blood vessels and nerves pass whilst the outer bone surface itself is called Cortical bone (otherwise known as compact bone) and the the inner bone is called Trabecular bone (otherwise known as spongy bone, a good shock absorber) (Mays 1999).  In the long bones especially a Medullary Cavity is often present where fat cells can be stored and blood is produced in red marrow (Schwartz 2007).

The basic anatomy of bone highlighting the diaphysis (shaft of bones) and epiphysis (ends of bones)  with the periosteum membrane and medullary cavity highlighted (Source: Wikipedia).

Growth of Bone

The growth of bones in the womb and up until full maturity is directed by two different biological processes.  Endochondral Ossification is a process by which bones are preceded by cartilaginous models.  Ossification in this case is initiated before the birth of the individual in the mother’s womb. Endochondral bone growth is the primary process of bone ossification in the human skeleton (White & Folkens 2005).  Intramembranous Ossification occurs when apposition of tissue within an embryonic connective tissue membrane covering takes place.  However this method of bone ossification is largely limited to the cranial vault of the human skeleton, primarily the frontal and parietal bones (White & Folkens 2005: 46).

Generalized bone growth highlighting the importance of the main ossification centers of bone.  Many bones have one or two primary ossification centers but some have more, depending on the location and shape of the bone.  The growth plates (epiphysis), located at the end of the diaphysis, highlight how the individual bones can grow until full fusion of the individual elements occurs when growth stops, which is usually during late adolescence (Source: Baron 2008).

Fusion of the epiphysis plates to the diaphysis plates mainly occurs in the long bones of the skeleton ( the femora, tibiae, humeri etc) during late adolescence.  It is often used as an age estimator when describing archaeological skeletal material (Mays 1999) as individual elements fuse as different times.  This is the reasons why human juveniles have a greater number of individual skeletal elements compared to the fully mature skeleton of adult individuals.

Anatomical Direction Used in Human Osteology

Anatomical directional terms and planes of reference are used to give precise locations when discussing the human skeleton.  This is so that when using this nomenclature it is obvious to all concerned about what is being talked about; it is used to avoid ambiguity.  Below is a diagram outlining the main terms.

Anatomical Planes (Wikipedia).

Standard anatomical directions used in human anatomy for orientation of elements.

The skeleton is often described of as composing of the appendicular and the axial skeleton.  The appendicular skeleton (126 individual bones) is the locomotor of the body.  The appendicular skeleton includes the elements and joints of the feet, leg and hip bones together with the hand, arm and shoulder bones.  This allows an astonishing array of large and fine movement and functions, although more rotation and general movement is permissible at the shoulder joint because of its structure in comparison to the weight bearing hip and knee joints (Schwartz 2007).  The axial skeleton (composed of 80 individual elements) holds the pelvic girdle, the ribcage, the shoulder girdle and the cranium.  The axial skeleton houses all of the main organs of the body and supports the basic biological function of life as we know it.

Bone Microstructure

Finally, I’ll quickly mention bone microstructure.  The basics of bone microstructure include both Volkmann’s canals (essentially blood vessel routes) and Haversian canals (canals at the centre of the osteon unit containing nerve fibres), basic nutritional and blood supplies for the bone at a microscopic level.  At the micro level, bone is made of and replaced by osteons.  This includes:

Osteocytes: Osteocytes are relatively long lived inert bone cells, they can however perform a function similiar to osteoblasts, but their primary hypothesized role is to monitor the activity of osteoblasts and osteoclasts inside a basic multicellular unit. 

Osteoblasts: Osteoblasts synthesize the production of bone when grouped together as an osteon. 

Osteoclasts: osteoclasts re-absorb bone tissues, a vital process during the maintenance and repairing of healthy bone.

In living persons the bone is covered by the periosteum, a living tissues that acts as a soft tissues from which vessels bringing in and out blood etc moves through (White & Folkens 2005).  Here is a guide depicting variation between human and various animal microstructure, and how to recognise the variations when studying comparative osteology and zooarchaeology.

Bone microstructure in a hypothetical and typical transverse slice of bone.  Not to relational sizes (Source: Wikpedia).

A full list of terms and directions are described here.  As we are in the business of archaeology, the condition and quality of the bone found in such circumstances is dependent on two main processes post burial/depositional, which are Diagenesis and Taphonomic changes.  Diagenesis “is the cumulative physical, chemical and biological environment; these processes will modify an organic object’s original chemical and/or structural properties and will govern its ultimate fate, in terms of preservation or destruction” (Wikipedia 2011).  Taphonomy is the study of decaying and decayed organisms. Thus the “study (of) taphonomic processes(can be used) to determine how plant and animal (as well as human) remains accumulate and differentially preserve within archaeological sites. This is critical to determining whether these remains are associated with human activity. In addition, taphonomic processes may alter biological remains after they are deposited at a site.” (Wikipedia 2011).

A discussion of tooth anatomy will follow in the next week or so, as teeth are a distinct part of our skeletal body.  Various elements of the skeleton, i.e. the vertebral column, will be discussed in separate posts for a more in depth study.  For the moment it is important to grasp the fundamentals.  Terminology regarding subject key words (terms such as ‘Bioarchaeology’ or ‘Physical Anthropology’) will be discussed in the following post to decide what exactly they mean, and where they came from.  Hopefully this short series of introduction posts will help broaden your knowledge of human osteology as it is practiced at the current time.

Further Information


Larsen, C. 1997. Bioarchaeology: Interpreting Behaviour From The Human Skeleton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mays, S. 1999. The Archaeology of Human Bones. Glasgow: Bell & Bain Ltd.

Schwartz, J. H. 2007. Skeleton Keys: An Introduction to Human Skeletal Morphology. New York: Oxford University Press.

White, T. & Folkens, P. 2005. The Human Bone Manual. London: Elsevier Academic Press.