Recent advancements in MRI have enabled clinical imaging of human cortical bone, providing a potentially powerful new means for assessing bone health with molecular-scale sensitivities unavailable to conventional X-ray-based diagnostics. In human cortical bone, MRI is sensitive to populations of protons (1H) partitioned among water and protein sources, which may be differentiated according to intrinsic NMR properties such as chemical shift and transverse and longitudinal relaxation rates. Herein, these NMR properties were assessed in human cortical bone donors from a broad age range, and four distinct 1H populations were consistently identified and attributed to five microanatomical sources. These findings show that modern human cortical bone MRI contrast will be dominated by collagen-bound water, which can also be exploited to study human cortical bone collagen via magnetization transfer. Magn Reson Med, 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.