Cortical bone maintenance and geometry of the tibia in prehistoric children from Nubia's Batn el Hajar



The relationship between advancing age in adults and patterns of cortical bone maintenance has been extensively documented for archaeological populations (Dewey, et al., 1969; Van Gerven et al., 1969; Perzigian, 1973). Most recently, this research has been expanded to include a more thorough consideration of the geometric properties of bone in relationship to adult age changes (Martin and Atkinsin, 1977; Ruff and Hayes, 1983). To date, however, few studies have documented subadult patterns of cortical bone maintenance in archaeological populations and none have incorporated the relationship between patterns of cortical bone loss and gain and the changing geometric properties of growing bone. Using a sample of 172 tibias from children excavated from the Medieval Christian site of Kulubnarti, located in Nubia's Batn el Hajar, the present research examines the relationship between percent cortical area, bone mineral content, and cross-sectional moments of inertia. Among these children, bone mineral content increases steadily from birth in spite of a reduction in percent cortical area during early and late childhood. It appears, therefore, that tissue quality of the bone is not adversely affected by the reduction. Furthermore, the reduction in percent cortical area in later childhood corresponds to a dramatic increase in bending strength measured by cross-sectional moments of inertia. Thus, whether this cortical reduction is due entirely or in part to either normal modeling or nutritional stress, the tissue and organ quality of the bone is not adversely affected.