Palaeoanthropology traditionally relies on the examination of stone and bone tool artefacts and gross anatomical examination of fossilised skeletal remains to answer questions relating to the evolution and behaviour of hominins. Of particular interest to the discipline has been the reconstruction of biomechanical loading history from the size and outer shape of fossil bones, based on which locomotion and other habitual behaviour has been inferred. However, recent advancements in the study of bone growth and adaptation to biomechanical load reveal complex macro- and microstructural relationships. It has become apparent that the underlying microstructural signatures of bone growth do not consistently relate to the outer bone structure, particularly in the case of adult individuals who had attained their adult skeletal growth before death. These recent advancements allow factors such as the age, sex, pathology, diet and biomechanics of an individual to be better understood, and highlight the need for moving beyond macrostructural examination of fossils to provide new insights into the ecology and systematics of extinct hominins. Histology, a gold standard in the microscopic examination of biological tissues, is unfortunately too invasive for regular use on rare palaeoanthropological specimens. By good fortune, a number of thin sections from past histological study are still available for analysis and many are overdue for re-examination in the light of modern understanding of bone adaptation to behaviour. In addition to this, new methodologies now allow for non-destructive palaeohistological analysis of fossil bone tissue. In this PhD thesis, I address three key research questions: 1) how does non Homo sapiens hominin bone microstructure described in the published record compare with modern Homo sapiens and other mammal experimental model bone histology?; 2) What new information can be gleaned from re-evaluation of the density and geometric properties of various hominin microstructural bone characteristics in relation to hominin lifestyle factors?; 3) Can improved hominin phylogenetic relationships be constructed based on bone histological information? This study highlights the importance of re-visiting and re-interpreting historical histological descriptions, re-examination of samples generated by palaeoanthropologists over the past couple of centuries, and incorporating multi-methodological approaches to understanding hominin bone tissue.

About the presenter

Madeleine Green is currently a PhD candidate at the Australian National University in Biological Anthropology where her research focuses on palaeohistology and palaeoanthropology. She undertook her undergraduate degree in archaeology and honours degree in archaeology at the University of Queensland and continues to teach in outreach in archaeology both in excavation and forensics at the University of Queensland, and has most recently been lecturing at Griffith University in an introductory science course.

About Archaeology Working Papers

The Working Papers in Archaeology seminar series provides a forum for dissemination of archaeological research and ideas amongst UQ archaeology students and staff. All students are invited to attend the series and postgraduate students, from honours upwards, are invited to present their research. The aim is to provide opportunities for students, staff and those from outside UQ, to present and discuss their work in an informal environment. It is hoped that anyone interested in current archaeological directions, both within and outside the School and University, will be able to attend and contribute to the series.