The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Comparison of the humeral cancellous bone in Neolithic human populations and present day people


1Paleoanthropology, Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Paleoecology, Eberhard Karls University (Tübingen, Germany), 2Referat 84, Osteologie, Regierungspräsidium Stuttgart, Landesamt für Denkmalpflege (Germany), 3Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig, Germany)

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Bone is a plastic material. Like a functional signature, it stores information about its loading history. Recent studies about the functional adaptation of bone indicate that use over time has a stronger impact on bone structure than genetic predisposition. Cancellous bone has a higher annual turn-over rate than cortical bone and therefore is very sensitive to its daily loading regime.

Here we test the hypothesis that the cancellous bone architecture of the humerus involves fine-tuned information about loading regimes and is able therefore to differentiate between different habitual manual activities. For this purpose we compared the trabecular architecture of the humeral head in samples from neolithic human populations from Germany to that of a sample of contemporary Germans. The specimens were scanned at 130 kV and 100-110 μA with a GE v|tome|x s CT system at the University of Tübingen Computed Tomography Laboratory and with a BIR ACTIS 225/300 CT system at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. Using these high-resolution scans of proximal humeri, we quantified the global trabecular architectures, measuring nine standard 3D-morphometric parameters. Principle component analysis of the 3D-morphometrics of the trabecular architectures separated the population samples, pointing out differences in the gross trabecular architecture, likely reflecting differences in the manual working routine between the sampled populations.

The results of this project provide a basis for assessing activity levels and subsistence techniques in past populations. Their application to the fossil record holds substantial promise for the interpretation of such behaviors in extinct hominins.

This study was supported by DFG INST 37/706-1 FUGG grant, the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung (SGN), and by the Max Planck Society.

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