How does osteology help the anthropologist identify a skeletonized body ?

2 Answers | Add Yours

boblawrence's profile pic

boblawrence | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted on

Human osteology is the study of human bones.  It is a broad term that encompasses all aspects of bones, including normal bone formation, all details of bone anatomy, and the effects on bones of disease and trauma.  Osteology also deals with the indications in bones of the race, sex, age, stature and ethnicity of the person from whom the bone or bones came.

Among many determinations possible, the forensic anthropologist can use osteology to identify the person whose bone(s) or skeleton is recovered.

For example, bones of the pelvis, especially the pubic bones, have clues of the subject’s sex.  In females, these bones may show telltale signs of any pregnancies.  The skull has characteristic features of the various races.  The long bones of the extremities, as well as many other bones bear indications of the subject’s age.

The overall heaviness of certain bones, features noted in areas of muscle attachment and other findings may indicate occupational or athletic activities in which the subject engaged during life.

Diseases and trauma during life often leave indicators on bones.  Fractures, for example, can be compared to medical X-rays of a living candidate to see if there is a match.

eli468's profile pic

eli468 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted on

Osteology is the way that anthropologists can identify a skeleton body. From breaking down the word, it literally means the study of bones. (-ology = the study of, osteo = bones) Human bones are set up differently among most races as well as male and female. By looking at the bones shapes, structures, thicknesses, sizes, and other factors anthropologists can tell gender, approximate age, and often race. It can also show what people have gone through in life. For example, those with more calcified and thick bones tend to have worked more in life/been harder on their bodies or may show signs of torture. They can see things such as osteoporosis, old bone damages, and they can even see some nutrition factors depending on the condition of the bones sometimes.

For more about forensic osteology I linked a book below.


We’ve answered 317,843 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question