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Class Notes: Bioarchaeology

Tuesday: November 1, 2011

Week 7: Activity Patterns & Bone Geometry


 A skeleton shows evidence of childhood health in two major ways. The first is an individual’s height. To determine the individual’s growth rate, long bones are measured metrically then compared on a scale to the individual’s tooth eruption sequence. The sequence of tooth eruption is fairly set but bone length will vary. While this has some genetic factors to consider, extrinsic influences also play a major role. However, does a lower growth rate mean the child was less healthy? Not always. While it is true that a person with a sickly childhood will be shorter, it is also true that a shorter person is more adapted to a lower intake of calories, or even cooler climates.

The second childhood health indicator is the teeth themselves. Teeth create a permanent record of stress affecting an individuals during tooth formation. This means that evidence of disease may be recorded during the whole first 18 years of life, to remain there until the teeth are lost. A common one found is linear enamel hypoplasia, or horizontal grooves typically found in the anterior teeth. I presented a chapter to go into this further.

We discussed what types of questions can be answered by looking at children, and these include:

  • Diseases present in childhood
  • Age and size at menarchy, puberty
  • Growth rates
  • Sexual dimorphism prior to adolescence
  • Weaning


 In brief, Wolff’s Law states that there is a biomechanical skeletal response to demand: bone is laid where it is needed and removed where it is not. (An “you use it or lose it” phenomenon.) By applying an engineering model to biology, understanding bones as an I-beam or a cylinder, extrinsic forces can be interpreted via specific bone morphology. Bone is best at displacing compressive forces, but tensile, bending, shearing, and torsional (which can also all be combined) are common stresses. Applying Wolff’s Law, these forces are what gives bones unique characteristics. Our readings and discussions went into great detail, from case studies to polar moments of inertia.

I also borrowed a book from Dr. S to start thinking about my 10 page paper I need to present on for class, The Bioarchaeology of Children: Perspectives from Biological and Forensic Anthropology (see the Library for bibliographic information). I may do something with juveniles, to keep in line with what I am learning in Human Osteology. I may also look into skeletal deformation as another option. Intentional and unintentional. Cranial and Post-cranial. Before and after death even. The possibilities there are great. What I do not understand is why some books are so pricely (Ahem, Cambridge University Press…) while other larger books from the same company are less than half. I have several on my Amazon wishlist that I just may never purchase simply for the price. Costs of healthcare and education should both be brought back down a notch or 6000.

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2 remarks!

  1. Now that was interesting. but, do you have to buy all your books? I agree the cost should be brought down …

  2. The bookstore offers rentals, and I can always sell back my books. But these books are important for life after gradschool as well, so if I care at all about being good at what I do, then yes, I have to buy them.

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