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Keywords:

  • histology;
  • hominid cranial bone;
  • cranial thickness;
  • Omo-Kibish 1;
  • incident light microscopy;
  • paleoanthropology;
  • comparative anatomy;
  • confocal microscopy

Abstract

The microstructure of a hominid cranial vault has not previously been studied to determine its tissue histology, and differences in comparison with that of modern humans. We selected the parietals of Omo-Kibish 1, regarded as one of the oldest (about 130,000 years old) anatomically modern humans, and Omo 1 (Howell), which is a very recent human (about 2,000 years old)—both from the same area of Ethiopia. A combination of macrophotography, polarizing microscopy in the incident and transmission illumination mode, and confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM) was employed to examine thin sections, as well as polished and unpolished block faces of unembedded bone fragments, to minimize specimen destruction as much as possible. The methods enabled remarkably detailed information on bone microstructure and remodeling to be gleaned from tiny fragments of bone. The best method for examining fossilized human bones was shown to be that of incident light microscopy, which was the least destructive while producing the most amount of information. Unless the above methods are used, bone-filling minerals, such as calcite, can cause erroneous estimations of bone thickness, as observations with the naked eye or even a magnifying glass cannot determine the limit between the cortex and the diploe. This is particularly important for sciences such as paleoanthropology, in which, for instance, a thick cranial bone of Homo erectus may be confused with a pathological one of H. sapiens and vice versa. Cross sections of parietal bones revealed differences between Omo-Kibish 1 and Omo 1 (Howell) in diploic histology and in the relative thickness between the cortex and diploe, with the former specimen having an H. erectus ratio despite its H. sapiens gross anatomy. Omo-Kibish 1 may still retain some affinities with H. erectus despite its being classified as H. sapiens. Newly described histological structures, such as the reverse type II osteons, the multicanalled osteons, and the osteocytomata are presented here. A modern human skeletal anatomy does not necessarily imply a modern human cranial bone histology. The outer circumferential lamellae of cranial bones are in essence growth lines. Cranial histology of hominids may provide useful information concerning their taxonomy and life history, including such factors as growth rate, developmental stress, and diet. Anat Rec 267:52–59, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.