Doctoral Dissertation Research: Variation in human bone structure across subsistence strategy transitions

Project: Research project

Project Details


Humans have lightly built skeletons compared to both non-human primates and extinct human ancestors. Most research on human skeletal variation has focused on comparing bone structure among geographically, genetically, and behaviorally diverse human groups. In order to understand the influence of behavior and mobility on human bone structure, this doctoral dissertation project will quantify skeletal variation among human groups that are genetically and geographically similar, but behaviorally distinct. This research integrates archaeological evidence of human behavior and microcomputed tomography data to investigate bone structure as an intersection between behavior and biology. Low bone mass related health complications are a prominent expense within the U.S. healthcare system; this project will provide insights into the factors that may contribute to the risk of low bone mass related health issues from an anthropological perspective. The project will also contribute to the development educator workshops for using publicly available 3D image data for classroom-based research projects.

Recent work has found that human groups with higher levels of activity tend to have more robust cortical and trabecular bone structure compared to groups with relatively lower activity levels. However, much of this research has relied on comparing geographically and genetically distinct human groups. This project investigates the relationship between cortical and trabecular bone structural variation across several post-cranial elements within and between human groups that are genetically and geographically similar, but behaviorally distinct in order to test whether the relationship between behavior and bone structure is maintained, or if other factors such as diet, genetic background, and environment play a larger role in forming adult skeletal phenotype than previously considered. Microcomputed tomography scan data of the humerus, cervical vertebra, femur, tibia, talus, and calcaneus will be collected. Cortical and trabecular bone structural variation will be quantified and compared between groups with different subsistence strategies including foragers, horticulturalists, and intensive agriculturalists. Additionally, the amount of variation in cortical and trabecular bone will be investigated within and between both individuals and skeletal elements in order to understand how different levels of bone structural organization respond to variation in subsistence strategy and mechanical loading.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date3/1/192/28/22


  • National Science Foundation: $28,556.00


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