Osteology Lesson

  1. Begin this lesson by discussing how important knowledge of osteology (the study of bones) can be when a forensic scientist wishes to identify remains at a crime scene. When a forensic scientist arrives at a crime scene area s/he is often faced with very badly decayed remains along with many other types of physical evidence. This can present a difficult to solve problem should one wish to identify the victim(s) at the scene. However, a student of osteology will know just how to extract a great deal of information from the bones.

  2. The first step in learning about osteology is to figure out how to distinguish human bone from that of other types of animals. Begin this process by directing students to The eSkeletons Project to learn more about comparative human anatomy. For further human anatomy resources go to a Bone Review. You may also wish to discuss some basic ways of distinguishing human from animal bone. For instance, birds, unlike humans, have very wide marrow cavities in their bones (this enables them to fly since they have less bone mass and are much lighter than animals with narrow marrow cavities). Although the computer is a very useful resource, the best way to learn human osteology is to visit an anatomy lab at a local university and have a look at their osteology collection(s) (with permission of course).

  3. The next step you should take to familiarize your students with human anatomy is to point out that humans are the only mammals that are habitually bipedal (meaning that they habitually walk on two feet instead of four). There are many modifications of the human skeleton caused by this unique mode of locomotion that allow forensic scientist to easily distinguish human bone from that of other animals. For example, humans have what is called a valgus knee; meaning that our femur (upper leg bone) is not directly in line with our tibia (the largest of the two lower leg bones). Instead the femur angles out from where it articulates (or meets) with the proximal (or closest to the center of the body) end of the tibia. This angle allows us to keep our center of gravity directly over our lower limbs and it reduces the back and forth aspect of our locomotion. (A chimpanzee does not have a valgus knee and thus seems to waddle back and forth as it walks.) Humans also have a very large calcaneus (or heel bone) due to the fact that all of our body weight must pass through our feet when we walk. For this reason, humans also have a very robust great toe bone. (There is a point in our stride when our great toe bears all of our body weight.)

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