Quantifying cortical bone in fragmentary archeological second metacarpals
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OBJECTIVES: Skeletal variation in cortical bone thickness is an indicator of bone quality and health in archeological populations. Second metacarpal radiogrammetry, which measures cortical thickness at the shaft midpoint, is traditionally used to evaluate bone loss in bioarcheological and some clinical contexts. However fragmentary elements are regularly omitted because the midpoint cannot be determined. This methodological limitation reduces sample sizes and biases them against individuals prone to fracture, such as older individuals with low bone mass. This study introduces a new technique for measuring cortical bone in second metacarpals, the "Region of Interest" (ROI) method, which quantifies bone in archeological remains with less-than-ideal preservation while accounting for cortical heterogeneity. MATERIALS AND METHODS: The ROI method was adapted from digital X-ray radiogrammetry (DXR), a clinical method used to estimate bone mineral density, and tested using second metacarpals from Middenbeemster, Netherlands, a 19th century known age and sex skeletal collection. The ROI method quantifies cortical bone area within a 1.9 cm-long, mid-diaphyseal region, standardized for body size differences using total area (CAIROI ). CAIROI values were compared to traditional radiogrammetric cortical indices (CI) to assess the method's ability to identify age-related bone loss. RESULTS: CAIROI values have high intra- and interobserver replicability and are strongly and significantly correlated with CI values for both males (r[n = 39] = 0.906, p = 0.000) and females (r[n = 58] = 0.925, p = 0.000). CONCLUSION: The ROI method complements traditional radiogrammetry analyses and provides a reliable way to quantify cortical bone in incomplete second metacarpals, thereby maximizing sample sizes, allowing patterns in bone acquisition and loss to be more comprehensively depicted in archeological assemblages.
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