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Art-heavy personal blog of mostly Watchmen and Homestuck. Also bones, cats, the human body, SCIENCE!, politics, and Star Trek. Occasionally NSFW but everything's tagged.


Quantitative Assessment of the Sternal Rib End Morphology and Implications for Its Application in Aging Human Remains 

  • by Efthymia Nikita

Intercostal and age differences in the sternal rib end morphology of documented female skeletons from Spitalfields and St. Bride’s are examined. The morphology was captured using three-dimensional morphometrics and the statistical analyses employed included parametric and nonparametric MANOVA, discriminant analysis, and multilinear regressions. It was found that the quantified morphology of the sternal rib end was statistically significantly different between rib four and all other ribs except for the third one and that the morphological characteristics of all ribs varied with age. However, due to the inherent variability in sternal rib end morphology, nonstatistically significant results were obtained among the various age groups and neither disciminant nor multilinear regression analysis could be used for the estimation of the age of an individual based on digitized coordinates of the sternal rib end of individuals of known age, raising some concern as to the rigorousness of the fourth rib aging method” (read more/open access).

(Open access source: Journal of Forensic Sciences 58(2):324-329, 2013 via

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High speed car accident. What injuries are seen and what’s the background condition called?


Okay, so I normally leave the answers off or just hint to them in the tags when I reblog radiologysigns (you are awesome, radiologysigns, just so you know) so my fellow bone nerds can quiz ourselves, but this is something that’s easy to miss if you don’t have time to click through. Especially since us dry bone people don’t get a full education in radiology. And I thought I’d include the kids who haven’t taken a hard core osteology class (yet) in the fun!

So that broken spine and pelvis are pretty freaking dramatic. And those bones are dense as hell - see how white they are in the radiograph? That’s the “background condition” in the teaser. It’s osteopetrosis.

The fuck is that? It’s basically the opposite of osteoporosis - your bones get TOO dense. How could that be bad, right? Wrong! It sucks too. Lemme ‘splain.

See, bone is living tissue. It’s constantly changing according to how you use or don’t use it. This is (basically) due to the activities of two kinds of bone cells: osteoblasts, which build bone, and osteoclasts, which break it down. And I know you’re probably thinking “uh… I don’t want those bone-breaking-down cells, that can’t be good!” But seriously, you want these to work right, because sometimes you have to break down the old to make way for the new. Like how you have to sand down a surface to get a new coat of paint to stick. Or like how you’re supposed to build muscle by working out enough to just slightly damage the muscle you have so it builds back stronger. It’s not a perfect metaphor when it comes to bone, but it’s the same basic idea.

You may have experience with this process if you’ve broken a bone - you may get it set or surgically pinned (or if you’re American and don’t have insurance you might get a sling and a ‘good luck with that’ but STORY FOR ANOTHER TIME), but the bone repairs itself in the parameters given. It smooths over the sharp edges of the fracture and builds new bone, and the fracture heals. But those helpful little osteoclasts and osteoblasts aren’t just sleeping until you break something - they’re at work all the time! They’re making you stronger where you need it, lighter in places you don’t use, and unfortunately, might be giving you arthritis when you get older (I didn’t say bone was smart). You know that thing about how you’re an entirely new person on a cellular level every 7 years? That applies to bone too! Except with a skeleton it’s about every 10 years, giving or taking a fairly wide range because human variation.

Anyhow, back to osteopetrosis. Like osteoporosis, it’s a condition where the bone-building and the bone-breaking-down functions get out of balance, only it’s the osteoclasts (the breaking-down guys) that aren’t doing their job and bone density goes up rather than getting reduced. And without osteoclasts to clean things out, the bone building function goes awry. The marrow cavities can get too thin, leading to anemia and other marrow-related complications, and the holes for nerves especially in the cranium can get narrowed as well - your optic and auditory nerves are up there and like all nerves, they like a little space to function and don’t appreciate getting pinched.

Most characteristically though, the unchecked osteoblasts building things up all the time cause the bones to get brittle. This is what really affects the lives of people with osteopetrosis and, as you can see most dramatically above, the bones break easily in the face of things like car accidents. Sweet mother that looks painful.

So take a moment and thank the balance of skeletal creation and destruction made possible by the humble osteoclast, and may yours always be in balance with your osteoblasts.

the great thing about anthropology is dead people don’t talk back

Feminist archaeology thus asks new questions, and shakes up interpretations of existing data as well as suggesting new data sets. It demands details in situations where concepts have been taken for granted rather than argued. It even adds a measure of common sense to well-trodden ground. Furthermore, we can learn new things about gender roles, gender relationships, and gender ideology in particular times and places, adding richness to our understandings. By challenging preconceived ideas about how men and women interacted, feminist archaeology requires proof instead of assertions, especially those which interpret sites based on current attitudes and practices.

Sarah Milledge Nelson, How A Feminist Stance Improves Archaeology 

Don’t ever let anyone get away with making sweeping general statements about the role of gender in past societies, not even old respected male archaeologists,  Challenge them, make them prove their claims, make them provide evidence, don’t let them rest on an inherent androcentrism that is modern academia.

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I sat in on an “Identities in Archaeology” class a few years back just for the fun of it. The professor lectured about archaeological interpretations across the globe which exhibit a male-only presence. This is generally due to the fact that stone tools are the cultural materials most commonly recovered from archaeological sites, and where, regardless of function, the general stereotype stone tools are for use in hunting only - an activity associated with men. This negates the fact that woman and children often contributed a substantial amount of energy into sustaining a family with staple foods while the high-risk/high-return activities, which could very well yield a low return, were taken on by the male. Oddly enough, when ethnography and a more holistic view are infused into archaeological interpretation, it might not be so difficult to tease out other demographics.

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The continuing story of my super-helpful notes.

If anybody has ever been curious as to what anthropology is like…

This.  This exactly.

My favorite osteopathologies are the ones that make me blurt “WOW!” or “HOLY SHIT!” as soon as I look at them.

Though I always feel a little bashful afterward and end up apologizing to the person or animal (even though they’re dead/an x-ray) like “Sorry buddy that had to freaking hurt.”


18yo on high dose corticosteroids for ALL. What is this bone marrow abnormality? ANSWER:

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Our Skulls Didn't Evolve to be Punched ›


Awesome takedown of the “men evolved to punch each other in the face” piece of “news” I responded to earlier.

"There’s no evidence that australopithecines fought like this. The entire conjecture is based on sports like mixed martial arts and modern crime stats. And females don’t even figure into Morgan and Carrier’s hypothesis. Female mate choice, and why sexual dimorphism between the sexes has drastically decreased through time, is either ignored or overshadowed by the belief that we owe are [sic] most distinctive features to males walloping each other.  This is bro science – dudes pummeling each other driving human evolution.

Academic machismo at its absolute finest.




Richard III’s spine was twisted, not hunched

(CNN) — When Shakespeare wrote of Richard III as a “bunch back’d toad,” he didn’t have the benefit of actually seeing the king, who had died in the previous century.
Now we know the playwright was probably wrong about…

So, this article is pretty interesting for pop science, but the clickbait headline isn’t what’s interesting about it and totally buries the lede that Richard III’s spine has been analyzed using 3D technology, which is totally badass. The Lancet article is behind a paywall, but the video reconstruction is available as well as another rather informative video if you want to check them out:

Yeah, the analysis confirmed scoliosis, but we really already knew that. I thought it odd that they were yelling “hunchback!” when they found the scoliosis initially (I mean, besides the fact it makes for a good story and involves Shakespeare), because scoliosis doesn’t always cause a hunched back. It curves the spine to the side instead. The curve can change how the shoulders and ribs are shaped and make it appear that the back hunches, but if this happens, what is more noticeable is that one shoulder is higher than the other.

What causes a hunchback is a different kind of curve called kyphosis. In all these vertebral asymmetries, the vertebral bodies can become wedge-shaped instead of vaguely cylinder-shaped. [**Wedging is not always the cause or effect of these asymmetries, as there are a crapton of ways to get asymmetrical spines, but it’s common and a handy way to visualize it. As always, biological organisms are more complicated than they appear, blah blah blah.] Kyphosis is when the wedge is smallest at the front of the vertebra, and the spine pitches forward. The opposite is lordosis, when the spine pitches back.

You still with me? Basically, kyphosis=forward curve, lordosis=backward curve, scoliosis=sideways curve.

The thoracic vertebrae have a natural, slight kyphotic curve, but the hunchback occurs when there’s too much of one, usually visible in older women with low bone density whose vertebrae have compressed forward. The lumbar vertebrae in humans also have a natural lordotic curve that makes habitual bipedalism possible. The curve can become exaggerated though, giving a “swaybacked” appearance. (For you fashion history nuts, the Edwardian S-curve corset was famously painful because it exaggerated this lumbar curve. Your fair author has a touch of lordosis and I’ve been insisting for years that the Edwardians would have freaking loved it and my various athletic coaches just needed to shut up about it already.) Anyhow, I’m off topic - this is what kyphosis looks like, with handy arrows to show you the wedging of the vertebral bodies:


(photo stolen from here.)

Scoliosis, meanwhile, can cause wedging of the vertebral bodies that is smallest laterally - on the sides, rather than the front.


(photo stolen from here, which is also a great article if you want to know more about congenital scoliosis.)

Scoliosis makes a person stand more like this:


(Photo stolen from here, but beware, even though they have a nice drawing, that website is sketchy as hell.)

See, though? Not necessarily a hunchback.

So now that you know this if you didn’t already, check out Richard III’s spine (photo stolen from here)

The complete spine. The width of the curve is correct, but the gaps between vertebrae have been increased so that they do not touch each other and get damaged. This makes this spine look longer than it would have been in life.

I see a little kyphosis, but not really enough to cause a hunchback that Shakespeare would rag on. I see the hell out of some scoliosis, though. This is not groundbreaking. So, again, it’s awesome that CNN cares about paleopathology for a hot minute, but let’s remember the real awesome thing about this: someone freaking 3D printed the spine of Richard III so we could mess with it in the name of science. Y’all, we live in the future.

Dr. Hrdlicka’s method of excavation was completely new to me but of course I assumed such a prestigious man knew what he was doing. His method was to commence at the bottom of the site using a pick until undercut enough to cause some of the upper portion to fall down. This debris was visually searched for artifacts and then wheel-barrowed to the dump. Many artifacts were found in the dump later. Stratigraphy as I knew it was non-existent. The Doctor divided the site into three parts - the bottom, the middle, and the upper and we were supposed to know which level the specimens came from. Portions falling from the upper level could of course include some artifacts from the middle or even possibly the bottom level. Thus stating that artifacts came from such and such a level was haphazard in the extreme. The usual way of course is to start at the top and work down six or perhaps twelve inches at a time. I think this was too slow for the Doctor for his main interest was to obtain as many skulls as possible.

Alan May, who worked with Hrdlicka for three seasons in Larsen Bay, Kodiak (1936-1938).

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