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The histological, or microscopic, appearance of bone tissue has long been studied to identify species-specific traits. There are several known histological characteristics to discriminate animal bone from human, but currently no histological characteristic that has been consistently identified in human bone exclusive to other mammals. The drifting osteon is a rare morphotype found in human long bones and observationally is typically absent from common mammalian domesticates. We surveyed previously prepared undecalcified histological sections from 25 species (human n = 221; nonhuman primate n = 24; nonprimate n = 169) to see if 1) drifting osteons were indeed more common in humans and 2) this could be a dis- criminating factor to identify human bone histologically. We conclude that drifting osteons are indeed more prevalent in human and nonhuman primate bone relative to nonprimate mammalian bone. Two criteria identify a rib or long bone fragment as human, assuming the fragment is unlikely to be from a nonhuman primate given the archaeological context: 1) at least two drifting osteons are present in the cross-section and 2) a drifting osteon prevalence (or as a percentage of total secondary osteons) of >= 1%. We present a quantitative histological method that can positively discriminate human bone from nonprimate mammalian bone in archaeological contexts.


This work was originally published in PLoS One, available at doi: 10.1371/journal. pone.0298029

This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (



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