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Techniques for the analysis of bone and teeth

The bioarchaeology community has long been concerned with the inconsistent and ultimately noncomparable ways that skeletal data are collected, analyzed, and reported. In an effort to encourage consistency and comparability, standards for data collection exist in the form of manuals (Buikstra and Ubelaker 1994b) and on institutional websites such as the Smithsonian Institution ( and Killgrove ( These standards simply list the most commonly used metrical and observational analyses used by most bioarchaeologists in the U.S. These standards include the collection of data from the skeleton, data on mortuary context, the condition and status of the skeletal remains themselves, the location, severity, and status of pathological and nonpathological lesions, metric and nonmetric observations, and demographics are systematically recorded for each discrete individual.

In general, for reconstructing diet, demography, disease, and trauma, it can be best accomplished with attention to 10 major categories (Table 2.1) . These ten indicators provide maximum comparability with other published studies as well as conform to the standardization of skeletal and dental indicators of stress (Buikstra and Ubelaker 1994b). Additional information on collecting these data is briefly discussed later and is more fully addressed in Bass (1987). Buikstra and Ubelaker (1994b), White and colleagues (2012), and DiGangi and Moore (2012).

Because differential diagnosis is often difficult and requires multiple confirmations, the collection of data on pathological lesions was based on a thorough description of the condition. As detailed in Buikstra and Ubelaker (1994b), bone has a limited response to any kind of physiological disruption and it can be broken down into four basic categories: osteoclastic or resorptive lesions, osteoblastic or proliferative lesions, lesions related to trauma, and a miscellaneous category rarely used when the other three do not quite fit the observed condition. After scoring the bone lesion within these large descriptive categories, a further assessment can be made. For example, if there was an osteoclastic or resorptive lesion, it can be further described by choosing among the following: superficial cortex only, subcortical involvement, granular walled, stellate, porotic hyperostosis, osteoporosis or osteopenia, and a miscellaneous category for all other descriptors. If there was an osteoblastic or proliferative lesion, it can be further described in the following manner: cortical pitting/striations only, periostitis with subperiosteal apposition, osteomyelitis with destruction of the cortex, a combination of the preceding, osteitis and increase in bone density, osteoma/benign tumor, osteophytosis, and a miscellaneous category. Location and status of the lesion are likewise recorded using a series of prompted responses.

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