Interpretation of scanning electron microscopic images of abraded forming bone surfaces


  • Timothy G. Bromage

    1. Department of Anatomy and Embryology, University College London, WC1E 6BT, London, England
    2. Department of Anthroplogy, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5S 1A1
    Current affiliation:
    1. Dept. of Anatomy and Embryology, University College London, Gower St., WCIE 6BT London, England
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The experimental abrasion of forming bone surfaces was conducted so that such surfaces could be characterized. This is particularly important to bone remodeling studies utilizing scanning electron microscope (SEM) imaging of archeological material. Forming surfaces derived from subadult macaque cranial bone were treated by particle abrasion, water abrasion, sliding abrasion, brushing, manual rubbing, weight, exfoliation, chipping and replication. Acetic acid treatments were also performed. The effects of abrasive agents are specific but generally fall into rough (particle and water abrasion) and smooth (sliding abrasion, brushing, rubbing and weight) categories.

Protohistoric human and Plio-Pleistocene hominid subadult craniofacial remains were observed with the SEM for comparison with experimental data. The more recent material appeared smooth, probably as a result of specimen preparation procedures using brushes. Surfaces were still interpretable as forming, however, using a more abrasion-resistant feature called intervascular ridging (IVR) described in this study. The IVR pattern is also recognized on the hominid sample, confirming the possibility of performing remodeling studies on abraded fossil material. The abrasion characteristics are somewhat more difficult to classify, however.

Abrasion is defined and discussed relative to remodeling studies and taphonomy. The usefulness of the experimental data reported here, however, in paleoenvironmental reconstruction, has yet to be fully realized. Acid and mechanical preparation techniques are briefly addressed. It is concluded that it is possible to characterize a forming surface as abraded according to the findings of this study and that acid, if handled with care, will more likely preserve microanatomical surface detail. It would also be in everyone's interest to employ a less abrasive cleaning regime on archeological specimens.