The Bone Histology Lab and Thin Section CollectionHistology images

The Lab

The osteology laboratory includes facilities for the preparation and analysis of histological bone thin sections. A Leitz SP1600 diamond-tipped annular microtome is used to produce bone slices down to ten microns in thick. Friable archaeological bones sometimes cannot withstand the cutting process, and so the laboratory includes a selection of embedding resins that can be used to maintain bone structural integrity during the cutting process. Glass microscope slides, cover slips and mounting fluid are also kept in stock for the preparation of thin sections. Binocular transmitted light optical microscopes fitted with polarising filters are available for examining the microscope slides. We also have access to adaptable digital photography equipment that can be used to produce bone micrographs. The micrographs can be analysed and measurements taken using specialist computer software.

The Collection

The Department of Archaeology’s human osteology laboratory houses an extensive and diverse collection of histological bone thin sections. The collection has accumulated as a result of a number of staff and student research projects undertaken over the past 30 years, and now consists of approximately three hundred individual slides of human and non-human animal bones from assorted periods and sites.

The human material mostly originates from collections that are or have previously been curated at the Department of Archaeology. Around a dozen or so thin sections are available from each site. The categories of human samples vary from site to site depending on the research question they were used to answer. Overall, the human archaeological collections include specimens of neonates, children and adult remains from the following sites:

  • Whitwell Quarry Neolithic funerary cairn
  • Carsington Pasture Cave and Beeston Tor Neolithic and Iron Age deposits
  • Cladh Hallan Late Bronze Age burials and cremations
  • Brodsworth Iron Age burials
  • Berinsfield Anglo Saxon cemetery
  • Cathedral Close, Exeter Anglo Saxon cemetery
  • Elsham Anglo Saxon cremation cemetery
  • Blackgate early medieval cemetery
  • Bolsover medieval cemetery
  • Grantham medieval cemetery
  • Royal Mint East Smithfield medieval cemetery
  • All Saints Fishergate, York medieval cemetery
  • Carver Street 19th c. cemetery
  • Coronation Street 19th c. cemetery

The human thin sections include twenty-two reference thin sections sampled from modern individuals of known age, sex and occupation.

Experimental non-human animal samples

The thin section collection contains a reference sample set of bone taken from a diverse range of non-human animal species that had been cremated at specific temperatures. This includes modern and archaeological reference bone thin sections from the following species:

  • Domestic Pig (Sus scrofa domesticus)
  • Wild Boar (Sus scrofa)
  • Domestic Cattle (Bos taurus)
  • Wild cattle (Bos primigenius)
  • Sheep (Ovis aries)
  • Goat (Capra aegagrus hircus)
  • Dog (Canis lupus familiaris)
  • Wolf (Canis lupus)
  • Chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus)
  • Horse (Equus ferus)
  • Red Deer (Cervus elaphus)
  • Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus)
  • Fox (Vulpes vulpes)
  • Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)