Differentiating Human Bone from Animal Bone: A Review of Histological Methods


  • Information from this paper was presented as a poster at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Association for Physical Anthropology, Winnipeg, Manitoba, November 2–5, 2005, and as a poster at the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, Anchorage, Alaska, March 6–12, 2006.

Additional information and reprint requests:
Lynne S. Bell, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, School of Criminology
Simon Fraser University
8888 University Drive
Burnaby, BC
Canada V5A 1S6
E-mail: lynneb@sfu.ca


ABSTRACT: This review brings together a complex and extensive literature to address the question of whether it is possible to distinguish human from nonhuman bone using the histological appearance of cortical bone. The mammalian species included are rat, hare, badger, racoon dog, cat, dog, pig, cow, goat, sheep, deer, horse, water buffalo, bear, nonhuman primates, and human and are therefore not exhaustive, but cover those mammals that may contribute to a North American or Eurasian forensic assemblage. The review has demonstrated that differentiation of human from certain nonhuman species is possible, including small mammals exhibiting Haversian bone tissue and large mammals exhibiting plexiform bone tissue. Pig, cow, goat, sheep, horse, and water buffalo exhibit both plexiform and Haversian bone tissue and where only Haversian bone tissue exists in bone fragments, differentiation of these species from humans is not possible. Other primate Haversian bone tissue is also not distinguishable from humans. Where differentiation using Haversian bone tissue is undertaken, both the general microstructural appearance and measurements of histological structures should be applied. Haversian system diameter and Haversian canal diameter are the most optimal and diagnostic measurements to use. Haversian system density may be usefully applied to provide an upper and lower limit for humans.