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Keywords:

  • archaeology;
  • bone;
  • haematoxylin;
  • histology;
  • manual;
  • palaeopathology;
  • staining

ABSTRACT

In the last decade, the use of light microscopy has been firmly established for the investigation of exhumated human bone tissue. As a rule, these remains cannot be decalcified; thus, they are most commonly prepared for microscopic analysis as ground thin sections. These ground sections are of great value in diagnosing disease, in estimating age or in assessing taphonomic alteration. As bone is sometimes fragile and can be damaged by the grinding process, the specimen is occasionally supported by an embedding medium.

In contrast to the vast amount of research conducted on embedded and unembedded unstained bone material, the use of histological stains on undecalcified dry bone tissue has been long neglected. In this article, a new method for embedding, sawing and grinding dry bone tissue is presented. The produced sections are subsequently stained with haematoxylin. The results show that even ground sections of fragile bone can be made in a quick and easy manner. Staining these sections enhances the envisioning of micro-architecture and taphonomical processes. In addition, the sections stay open for inspection under polarized light. The results were consistent throughout the used bone material. To keep the method as accessible and comprehensive as possible, a step-wise manual is provided. An additional troubleshooting paragraph discusses the most often encountered problems and provides solutions. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.