Different Preparation Techniques – Similar Results? On the Quality of Thin-Ground Sections of Archaeological Bone

Authors

  • K. Haas,

    Corresponding author
    1. Osteoarchaeological Research Laboratory, Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
    • Correspondence to: Kurt Haas, Osteoarchaeological Research Laboratory, Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden.

      e-mail: kurt.haas@ofl.su.se

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  • J. Storå

    1. Osteoarchaeological Research Laboratory, Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
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Abstract

Palaeohistology as a valuable diagnostic instrument is dependent on the production of high-quality thin-ground sections from dry bone. The objective of this study was to consider technical differences and assess the qualitative outcomes of five techniques for preparing thin-ground sections from dry archaeological bone. Established techniques with long follow-up times and excellently documented results were compared with simpler and cheaper time-saving techniques. Evaluations were made of the quality of thin sections obtained by one classical machine-based embedding technique, two revised versions of the same technique, one manual moulding technique based on Frost's rapid technique and one manual hybrid technique. Five osteological specimens of differing quality were prepared following the manuals for these five techniques and examined microscopically with respect to a list of standardised histological and diagenetic parameters. Alterations in the specimens attributable to preparation effects were recorded, and observations were scored with reference to three criteria: section quality, technical quality and staining. The results show that embedding techniques are to prefer. Superglue should not be used as a mounting or embedding medium. Manual grinding comes with several limitations, and machine cutting and grinding are preferred. Haematoxylin staining can be successfully applied to embedded specimens, giving more information on microscopic diagenetic processes. A stepwise manual for a revision of the classical embedding technique is presented. The time required for producing sections using classical embedding techniques is shortened from 6 weeks to 3.7 days by refining the preparation/polymerization processes involved with no loss of osteological data. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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