Written in Bone
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 can last long after death.
Video: Skeletal Growth - Skeleton Keys
Watch this video to see how bones develop over time. (Please note: the video is silent.)
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.
- Techniques and Tools of the Trade
- An Inside Look
- Young or Old?
- Male or Female?
- Who Were His Ancestors?
- Are These Bones Human or Not?
Bones contain a lifetime of personal information. Some of the evidence in bone — sex, ancestry, and genetic makeup — is fixed. Some of it — height, age, diet, illness, injury — varies over the course of a life. The biological profile of every skeleton is unique. In a forensic or archaeological investigation, a bone biography along with evidence at the scene can answer many questions about an unidentified person.
Even after fingerprints and facial features are gone or unrecognizable, skeletal evidence can tell us: Who was this? What did she look like? What did he do? And maybe how did she die?
Because of changes in diet, activities, medical care and resultant longevity, the bones of individuals today are markedly different from those of the 17th and 18th century — the time of early colonial America. Read more about scientific advances and what questions the bone detectives of the future will ask.