Trabecular bone structural variation throughout the human lower limb

Jaap P.P. Saers, Yasmin Cazorla-Bak, Colin N. Shaw, Jay T. Stock, Timothy M. Ryan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


Trabecular bone is responsive to mechanical loading, and thus may be a useful tool for interpreting past behaviour from fossil morphology. However, the ability to meaningfully interpret variation in archaeological and hominin trabecular morphology depends on the extent to which trabecular bone properties are integrated throughout the postcranium or are locally variable in response to joint specific loading. We investigate both of these factors by comparing trabecular bone throughout the lower limb between a group of highly mobile foragers and two groups of sedentary agriculturalists. Trabecular bone structure is quantified in four volumes of interest placed within the proximal and distal joints of the femur and tibia. We determine how trabecular structures correspond to inferred behavioural differences between populations and whether the patterns are consistent throughout the limb. A significant correlation was found between inferred mobility level and trabecular bone structure in all volumes of interest along the lower limb. The greater terrestrial mobility of foragers is associated with higher bone volume fraction, and thicker and fewer trabeculae (lower connectivity density). In all populations, bone volume fraction decreases while anisotropy increases proximodistally throughout the lower limb. This observation mirrors reductions in cortical bone mass resulting from proximodistal limb tapering. The reduction in strength associated with reduced bone volume fraction may be compensated for by the increased anisotropy in the distal tibia. A similar pattern of trabecular structure is found throughout the lower limb in all populations, upon which a signal of terrestrial mobility appears to be superimposed. These results support the validity of using lower limb trabecular bone microstructure to reconstruct terrestrial mobility levels from the archaeological and fossil records. The results further indicate that care should be taken to appreciate variation resulting from differences in habitual activity when inferring behaviour from the trabecular structure of hominin fossils through comparisons with modern humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-108
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology


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