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Class Notes: Human Osteology

Saturday: September 10, 2011

Week 1: What is Bone? & Histology & Introductory Terminology

The course objectives are to give students the abilities of:

  • Know every single bone in the human body
  • Know the function of every bone
  • Understand the microscopic anatomy of bone
  • Determine biological profile of a human skeleton
  • Understand how paleopathology, dietary reconstruction, and paleodemography shed light on early human lifeways
  • Complete the analysis of a human skeleton

Books assigned for class are: Human Osteology and Standards for Data Collection from Human Skeletal Remains. Recommended is also: Identification of Pathological Conditions in Human Skeletal Remains. (See the Library page for bibliographic information.)

There are nine students (6 undergrads and 3 grads). The separation lies in that graduates are expected to not only identify a bone but side it, sex and age it when possible, and note any pathology. Instead of being teamed up to work on the skeletal project, we will do it independently. And we must get at least 70% on each quiz in order to pass.


The skeleton functions to provide support for the body, anchors for movement of muscles, and protections of organs. It also makes blood, stores minerals, and assists with breathing, digestion, the immune system, and the central nervous system.

Briefly, bones are composed of roughly 65% calcium phosphate mineral (part of the hydroxyapatite composition), which gives bones their strength. The other part of the make-up is collagen, which gives bone enough elasticity to not be brittle. We went into detail of long bones, which have three main parts: the diaphysis (the long shaft), the metaphysis (widening of the shaft at either end), and the epiphysis (the end cap which forms separately and fuses during growth).

The diaphysis is made up of dense cortical bone, which then fades into thin subchondral bone (which is covered by cartilage) at the metaphysis and covers the epiphysis. The ends of long bones have trabecular bone, otherwise known as spongy bone. This is so that a bone can absorb impact without shattering. The outside of a bone is covered with a living tissue called periosteum, while the inside of the bone along the medullary cavity (which is where marrow is stored) is lined with endosteum. Because a bone must grow and also remodel after trauma, it needs nourishment like any other part of the body. Therefore, between the marrow (which houses fat and calcium as well as creates blood cells) and the periosteum,the cortical bone is made of osteons.

Osteons are small tubes of lamellar bone which form concentric circles around a Haversian canal. Through the canal, blood, lymph, and nerve endings are channeled. Between osteons are Volkamm’s canals which further channel the means necessary for nourishment. Within the lamellae are lacunae, or small cavities where the actual living cells of bone (osteocytes) needing the nourishment are housed. These are then connected to the entire system via tiny channels called canaliculi.


We went into further detail of the histology of bone and teeth but I will spare you the details (you can check it out at Wiki). Then we covered the anatomical position and its reference planes/directional terms. These include midsagittal, parasagittal, transverse, coronal, and oblique planes. Also, anterior/posterior, ventral/dorsal, superior/inferior, and medial/lateral directions.

Particular kinds of bone landmarks were also mentioned. The list is long but a few of them are foramina (holes), sutures (the squiggly lines on a skull), condyles (where two bones articulate), and fontanelle (the soft spots on a newborns head).


Fridays are lab days. They begin with a quiz and the rest of the time is spent working on a packet of material. We covered what I have already mentioned in detail and we had to be able to draw certain items (like an osteon or the parts of a long bone) and label features on a bone (like a protuberance, a turbercle, and a tuberosity). The three hours scheduled truly is not enough time to really grasp it all. It is a little daunting to know how much harder the course will become and how much less free time I will have to hit the lab after hours, but I am excited for the challenge that Human Osteology will give me. Bring it!

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