Secondary osteon and Haversian canal dimensions as behavioral indicators

Susan Pfeiffer, Christian Crowder, Lesley Harrington, Michael Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Variation in the size of structures within mature cortical bone is relevant to our understanding of apparent differences between human samples, and it is relevant to the development of histologically based age-estimation methods. It was proposed that variation may reflect effects of physical activity, through biomechanical and/or metabolic mechanisms. If these factors are local, femoral osteon area (On.Ar) should be more histologically variable than On.Ar in ribs. Ribs should show a higher variation in Haversian canal area (H.Ar) if they are sites of more remodeling activity and hence of arrested refilling of secondary osteons at time of death. This study compares On.Ar and H.Ar of secondary osteons from femora (15) and ribs (29) from 44 Holocene (Later Stone Age) foragers from South Africa (M = 19, F = 25) to values from paired femora and ribs from historic samples (Spitalfields and St. Thomas, 20 pairs from each). Fixed-effects analysis of variance demonstrates rib On.Ar to be significantly smaller than femur, but with no sex or age effects. The femur-to-rib On.Ar ratio is lower for the Holocene foragers than for the two modern samples because of relatively large rib On.Ar. Femora and ribs from the same skeleton normally show femoral On.Ar larger than rib On.Ar (37/44 pairs). Mean femoral values of On.Ar are more diverse than rib On.Ar values, but within-sample coefficients of variation are similar. Values for H.Ar are highly variable and do not reflect anatomical site, age, sex, or population effects. The patterning of osteon size does not appear to be linked to physical activity or to different rates of metabolic activity within the skeleton, at least not in a straightforward way.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)460-468
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Adult age estimation
  • Bone remodeling
  • Histomorphology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology


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