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5.6: Human Growth and Development - What Can Bones Tell Us?

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    Human remains record sex, age, height, and clues to ancestry. A scientist who uses the "keys" in human bones and teeth is a forensic anthropologist. The word forensic refers to applying science to legal or criminal matters, but forensic anthropologists may investigate modern or ancient human remains to solve mysteries.

    Before birth, every skeleton begins a unique "bone biography." The living tissue of bone records "life data" as a person grows, lives, and dies. Bones and teeth often withstand decay, so the data may survive long after death. Sometimes, skeletal evidence is the only way to learn about a once-living person.

    All of us have the same basic skeletal structures (206 bones in the adult skeleton) that identify us as human. But, between the young and old, male and female, and among ancestral groups, there are recognizable skeletal variations.

    Long, short, flat, or irregular—a bone's external shape and internal structure suits its job in the body. Bones provide attachment sites for muscles and let us move by means of joints. Bones protect our internal organs—especially the brain, spinal cord, heart, and lungs. Bone supports us in life, and it can last long after death.

    An Inside Look at Bone

    Bone is a living tissue made up of cells within a matrix of protein (mostly collagen) and minerals (mainly calcium and phosphorus).

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Left femur (thigh bone), coronal section (Image courtesy of Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History)

    The smooth compact bone found on all bone surfaces, and the spongy porous bone located between compact bone layers and in the ends of long bones, provide strength.

    Within spongy bone and hollow shafts of long bones is marrow. It makes red blood cells to supply oxygen to our soft tissues, and white blood cells to fight germs or disease. It also stores and releases fat as we need energy.

    How long can bones last? Hundreds of years, and even thousands of years under special circumstances. The chemical composition of bone — a combination of collagen and minerals — makes it strong and durable long after death. How well a bone is preserved depends on environmental influences and burial practices.

    Contributors and Attributions

    5.6: Human Growth and Development - What Can Bones Tell Us? is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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