The effect human lifestyle has on limb bone microstructure is an important aspect to consider in clinical and anthropological skeletal biology research. Static histomorphometry of femoral cortical bone, a routine method in biomedicine, is useful when examining products of bone remodelling in relation to mechanical load. Anthropologists can successfully use this methodological approach to study well preserved ancient bone samples, and make inferences about human biology and adaptation in the past. In particular, human remains from Medieval archaeological contexts with socio-economic stratification information provide a unique opportunity to explore the relationship between environment and bone biology.
In this study, human midshaft femoral cortical histology was examined in a large ancient sample (n = 450) dated to the late Medieval period in the UK (11th – 16th centuries AD). Products of cortical remodelling were recorded in thin sections removed from the posterior femur, representing adult males (n = 233) and females (n = 217) grouped into two distinct (low vs. high) socio-economic categories. Static histomorphometry data that included secondary intact, fragmentary, and osteon population densities, Haversian canal area and diameter, and osteon area were compared between the two socio-economic groups. Using both multivariate and univariate statistics, age, sex, and estimated femoral robusticity were accounted for in the analysis.
Significant differences in osteon and Haversian canal size, and osteon densities between the two socio-economic groups were observed. A general trend in data of increased osteon densities but larger osteon and Haversian canal dimensions was noted in individuals of high status when compared to the low status group. Though there were minor inconsistencies in females, the observed histological variation was in agreement with documented status- specific lifestyle. Bone health changes related to mechanical loading history and nutrition are inferred, demonstrating that ancient lifestyle has an effect on bone health.