In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Bone Histology

  • Introduction
  • Bone Biology and Histology Basics
  • General Anthropological Applications of Bone Histology
  • Journals
  • Histological Methods: Sample Preparation and Microscopic Imaging
  • Bone Growth and Development
  • Histological Differentiation of Human from Nonhuman Species
  • Estimation of Age at Death
  • Human Variation
  • (Paleo)pathology
  • Biomechanics
  • Alternate and Emerging Technologies for Histology

Anthropology Bone Histology
Sam D. Stout, Timothy P. Gocha, Mary Beth Cole, Amanda M. Agnew
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 September 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 September 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0148


Skeletal analysis is integral to research in biological anthropology, especially in fields such as forensic anthropology, bioarchaeology, zooarchaeology, paleontology, and paleopathology. The focus on skeletal remains in these fields relies on unique attributes of bone. Bone is a dynamic tissue in which important metabolic processes, including growth and development, and biomechanical adaptations (i.e., kinds and levels of physical activity) occur, and these metabolic processes are recorded in bone microstructure. Histological analysis provides a way to access this record. In addition, because of the mineralized composition of bone tissue, this record can persist and is observable long after death and the decomposition of other tissues. This article serves to provide readers with basic readings that are essential for students and researchers who seek to undertake histological analysis of skeletal remains in an anthropological context. The content includes references relating to basic skeletal biology necessary to understand and interpret histological methods; valuable reviews and critiques of histological methodology and methods; examples of methods proven to be applicable in forensic anthropology, bioarchaeology, paleontology, paleopathology, and related fields; and references of historical importance.

Bone Biology and Histology Basics

The references cited here cover aspects of basic bone biology that are essential for anyone undertaking histological analyses of bone, and interpreting their results. The bone’s environment influences bone structure through cells that respond to mechanical loading and additional metabolic, hormonal, and genetic influences. Dempster, et al. 2013 defines terms, abbreviations, and measurement units that researchers can expect to encounter in descriptions of bone biology, bone structure, and histological features. Burr and Allen 2014 provides a broad introduction to the cellular processes that produce histological structures and the factors within the body and environment that regulate bone cells. Huttenlocker, et al. 2013 also considers metabolic influences on histological structures as conserved across species. Martin, et al. 2015 provides the engineering basis for understanding the mechanical properties of bone, along with the cartilage, tendons, and ligaments that accompany skeletal tissue. Carter and Beaupré 2001 considers how mechanical forces regulate and affect the growth, repair, adaptation, and eventual loss of bone during aging.

  • Burr, David B., and Matthew R. Allen, eds. 2014. Basic and applied bone biology. London: Academic Press.

    This edited book is designed to serve as a textbook on basic and applied bone biology for an interdisciplinary graduate-level basic bone biology course. The text considers bone microstructure through the lens of bone cell function, regulation through genes, environmental factors, and mechanical loading, response to hormones and nutrition, and pathology.

  • Carter, Dennis R., and Gary S. Beaupré. 2001. Skeletal function and form: Mechanobiology of skeletal development, aging, and regeneration. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    This book addresses mechanical factors in skeletal development, growth, maintenance, functional adaptation, and aging. It provides a summary of current views on this topic informed by the authors’ research and experience, and it is organized in a phylogenetic framework based upon stages of skeletal ontogeny.

  • Dempster, David W., Juliet E. Compston, Marc K. Drezner, et al. 2013. Standardized nomenclature, symbols, and units for bone histomorphometry: A 2012 update of the report of the ASBMR histomorphometry nomenclature committee. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research 28:2–17.

    DOI: 10.1002/jbmr.1805

    Prompted by the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research (ASBMR), this publication defines terms used in describing biological components of bone, structure of cross-sections, structure of microscopic features, and rates of processes involved in bone formation and resorption. Abbreviations and measurements units are also provided when appropriate.

  • Huttenlocker, Adam K., Holly Woodward, and Brian K. Hall. 2013. The biology of bone. In Bone histology of fossil tetrapods: Advancing methods, analysis, and interpretation. Edited by Kevin Padian and Ellen-Thérèse Lamm, 13–34. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    This chapter offers a review of bone biology from a hierarchical perspective that emphasizes how histomorphology reflects metabolic processes.

  • Martin, R. Bruce, David B. Burr, Neil A. Sharkey, and David P. Fyhrie. 2015. Skeletal tissue mechanics. New York: Springer-Verlag.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4939-3002-9

    This updated edition provides a concise and comprehensible survey of basic skeletal biomechanics. It is especially suitable for advanced undergraduate and graduate students, researchers, and instructors in a broad range of disciplines. It complements Burr and Allen 2014.

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