Differentiating human from non-human bone fragments through histomorphological assessment of remains from Camposanto cemetery, Italy

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Abstract

When bones are found within archaeological contexts it is important for site interpretation that they are identified by species, or at the very least as human or non-human. However, key landmarks and characteristics typically used for such an assessment are often destroyed when bones are highly fragmented; thus methods including DNA or histology are amongst the few remaining options. Histological analysis of cortical tissue can be performed to discriminate human from non-human origin. A set of 40 bone fragments recovered during excavation of the Camposanto cemetery on the island of Lazzaretto Nuovo (Venice, Italy), used to accommodate mass plague deaths from 1468 ce, were histologically determined to be of non-human origin. Histomorphometric analysis of secondary osteons and Haversian canals, and non-metric assessment of plexiform, osteonal and non-plexiform fibrolamellar tissue, were applied to determine the most probable species origin. Discriminant function analysis established by Martiniaková and co-workers in 2006, was applied, resulting in 36 samples classified as pig and four as cattle. This is consistent with the island’s use as a quarantine station during this period when imported cattle were housed to avoid the spread of disease. These results further enhance the understanding of the Lazzaretto Nuovo site.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213-229
Number of pages17
JournalArchaeometry
Volume65
Issue number1
Early online date16 Jun 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023

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