|MadSci Network: Medicine|
Large fragments of human bone are often easily identified on the basis of gross anatomical features-- I am assuming, though, that you are speaking of small bone fragments. It's usually pretty easy to tell mammal bones from bird, reptile and fish bones. However, distinguishing fragments of deer bone, for example, from fragments of human bone can be trickier. Your observation that the cortical layer of human bone tends to be thinner than the bones of other mammals (of similar size) is generally correct-- but not the rule, of course. There is variation in average thickness for many of the bones of the mammalian skeleton. Which brings me to the point: Bone tends to become thicker under stress. I can't remember the citation for this article, but I remember a study of oxen metatarsals (or cannon bones-- the bone above the hoof) that showed that the mass (thickness) of the metatarsal increased with the amount of agricultural plowing performed by the animal. There are other pathological reasons for increased bone thickness, but since bones are the superstructure of the body, the load they carry is probably the best determiner of their strength. Hope this helps! Daniel R. Pratt Archaeologist
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