The 85th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2016)

Femoral bone remodeling comparisons between adult males and females from medieval England


1Department of Medicine, Imperial College London, 2School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent

April 15, 2016 , Atrium Ballroom A/B Add to calendar

Differences in bone metabolism between males and females in extant populations provide a basis from which to reconstruct gender divisions in labor for ancient humans. However, little is currently known about bone microstructure variation with sex in ancient English societies. Here, we access cortical bone remodeling using histological methods to compare males and females from the medieval period in Canterbury, England.

Following standard anthropological guidelines, sex and age-at-death were estimated for a total of 445 human skeletons, yielding 49 young and 180 middle-aged males, and 77 young and 139 middle-aged females. Static histomorphometry parameters were recorded in thin sections removed from the posterior femoral midshaft. Osteon population and osteocyte lacunae densities were compared between the sexes within each age category using univariate statistics.

Significantly higher remodeling was observed in males when compared to females. For example, osteon population density was higher in young (p = .044) and middle-aged (p. = .000) male groups when compared to females. Osteocyte lacunae were also denser (p = .001) in young males than females. Changes in cortical remodeling remained consistent when our analysis was adjusted for femoral robusticity to account for sexual dimorphism in bone size.

Our findings agree with bone physiology principles, and are congruous with previous histological studies of other archaeological populations. We link higher remodeling in males to greater mechanical loads. Medieval lifestyle differences that include gender specific labor divisions are inferred. Results are discussed in a hormonal bone physiology framework, and bone mass attainment variation with age and sex.