Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Murray K. Marks

Committee Members

Walter E. Klippel, William M. Bass III, Sandra K. Elkins


“The skeletal remains of some other animals, particularly when fragmentary, are often difficult to distinguish from human bones and teeth” (White 1991:3, emphasis mine).

Archaeological sites yield evidence that may be culturally modified items such as lithic tools, pottery, beads, buttons, watches, wedding rings, to items in nature classified by Dart (1957) as osteodontokeratic. Osteodontokeratic remains (or bone, tooth, and horn) are osseous human or animal elements that have either been modified tools or strictly osseous tissue itself. Bones of human and non-human origin comprise a significant portion of an assemblage. Deciphering the spatial context of the various forms of evidence is important to anthropologists when reconstructing human behavior. In archaeological sites with bones and fragments of bones, the ability to categorize whole bones and fragments into species is especially important when attempting to determine such parameters as Minimum Number of Individuals – MNI -- or Number of Species Present -- NISP (Davis 1987; White 1991).

One goal is to figure out bone assemblage patterns. Some questions relevant to this endeavor include: Are the bones human or non-human? Under what context are the bones recovered? That is, are the bones part of a culturally modified set (i.e., human and non-human bone tools or burial practices) or do they result from natural processes (i.e., accidental death and subsequent burial including normal processes of taphonomic factors)? To this end, small elements are recovered on frequent occasion in archaeological contexts. Throughout this study, small osseous fragments are defined as those readily identified macroscopically as bone but without systematic assignment as human or non-human origin.

Many small bone fragments encountered possess no diagnostic features that permit anthropologists to ascertain species. They may, however, possess certain morphology that allow Linnaean assignment by class nomenclature (e.g., mammal versus bird versus reptile). One question then becomes apparent when this problem is encountered: Does a reliable methodology exist to differentiate fragmented human from non-human bone? This is particularly critical in situations where identifying human from non-human bone at recovery scenes where the remains of US military casualties are suspected. Using this research, a method to differentiate species origin of bone fragments will be tested. This study will examine models and methods to easily and readily attempt differentiation of bone fragments and allow them to be assigned into a human versus non-human categorical nomenclature. This research focuses on a select group of large Southeast Asian mammals primarily from The Kingdom of Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and Socialist Republic of Vietnam -- or KOC, LPDR, and SRV respectively. Additionally, mammalian samples from the zooarchaeological collection at the University of Tennessee, as well as one species from a private collection are examined. This study is designed specifically to alleviate situations encountered at the Central Identification Laboratory of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (CIL JPAC) when small, non-diagnostic bone fragments are recovered during excavation of US military casualty sites.

Such goals are lofty. Copious research and many methods, techniques, and procedures have been described throughout the literature (see, for example, Bianco and Ascenzi 1993; Boivin and Meunier 1993; Garland 1993; Grupe and Dreses-Werringloer 1993; Harsanyi 1993; Herrmann 1993; Heuck 1993; Hummel and Schutkowski 1993; Jowsey 1966; Mulhern and Ubelaker 2001; Richman et al. 1979; Ricqles 1993; Stout and Ross 1991; Stout and Teitlebaum 1976; Tersigni 2001; Uytterschaut 1993). Most of this research focuses on utilizing histomorphologic analyses (see edited volume by Grupe and Garland 1993). That is, making bone thin sections and examining the morphology of the inter-cellular matrix under low power light microscopy. The literature is rife with histological comparisons of morphology between human and various animal bones (Harsanyi 1993; Lackey et al. 2001; Mulhern and Ubelaker 2001; Tersigni 2001). From a physical and forensic anthropological standpoint, there is a longstanding literature using human bone histology to estimate age (see Cho et al. 2002; Eriksen 1991; Hummel and Schutkowski 1993; Jowsey 1960; Kerley 1965; Kerley and Ubelaker 1978; Singh and Gunberg 1970; Stout 1988, 1992; Stout et al. 1994; Streeter et al. 2001). However, histomorphology is only one avenue. Besides examining human versus non-human bone histology, this research focuses specifically on large mammals indigenous to Southeast Asia.

The primary goals are: 1) Examination of bone histomorphology using light microscopy to develop a “user-friendly”, reliable, and reproducible method that others can utilize when examining fragmented bone of unknown origin. 2) Produce inter-species comparative micrographs outlining the differential osseous morphologies between species. Other researchers can utilize this guide when examining bone fragments of unknown origin (vis a vis Lovejoy et al.’s (1985) auricular surface phase change chart). 3) Finally, creation of an archive of standard reference to aid future identifications of bone fragments of unknown origin.

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