Human femur morphology and histology variation with ancestry and behaviour in an ancient sample from Vietnam

Meg M Walker* (Corresponding Author), Marc F Oxenham, Melandri Vlok, Hirofumi Matsumura, Nguyen Thi Mai Huong, Hiep Hoang Trinh, Tran Thi Minh, Justyna J. Miszkiewicz* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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There is a genetic component to the minimum effective strain (MES)—a threshold which determines when bone will adapt to function—which suggests ancestry should play a role in bone (re)modelling. Further elucidating this is difficult in living human populations because of the high global genetic admixture. We examined femora from an anthropological skeletal assemblage (Mán Bạc, Vietnam) representing distinct ancestral groups. We tested whether femur morphological and histological markers of modelling and remodelling differed between ancestries despite their similar lifestyles.

Static histomorphometry data collected from subperiosteal cortical bone of the femoral midshaft, and gross morphometric measures of femur robusticity, were studied in 17 individuals from the Mán Bạc collection dated to 1906 to 1523 cal. BC. This assemblage represents agricultural migrants with affinity to East Asian groups, who integrated with the local hunter-gatherers with affinity to Australo-Papuan groups during the mid-Holocene. Femur robusticity and histology data were compared between groups of ‘Migrant’ (n = 8), ‘Admixed’ (n = 4), and ‘Local’ (n = 5).

Local individuals had more robust femoral diaphyses with greater secondary osteon densities, and relatively large secondary osteon and Haversian canal parameters than the migrants. The Migrant group showed gracile femoral shafts with the least dense bone made up of small secondary osteons and Haversian canals. The Admixed individuals fell between the Migrant and Local categories in terms of their femoral data. However, we also found that measures of how densely bone is remodelled per unit area were in a tight range across all three ancestries.

Bone modelling and remodelling markers varied with ancestral histories in our sample. This suggests that there is an ancestry related predisposition to bone optimising its metabolic expenditure likely in relation to the MES. Our results stress the need to incorporate population genetic history into hierarchical bone analyses. Understanding ancestry effects on bone morphology has implications for interpreting biomechanical loading history in past and modern human populations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number152054
Number of pages12
JournalAnnals of Anatomy
Early online date27 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

This study was part of a research fellowship funded by the Australian Research Council (DE190100068). The College of Arts and Social Sciences at the Australian National University ANU) funded histology laboratory equipment used in the ANU Histology laboratory of the School of Archaeology and Anthropology.
We are indebted to the Vietnamese Institute of Archaeology in Hanoi, Vietnam for permissions to conduct this study, collaboration, and facilitating data collection in Hanoi. We thank Hallie Buckley and Dave McGregor for research support, the School of Social Science at the University of Queensland for access to microscopy facilities, and feedback during peer review which has improved this article. Funding was received from the Australian Research Council (DE190100068 to JJM), and the College of Arts and Social Sciences at the Australian National University.


  • bone histomorphometry
  • minimum effective strain
  • anatomical variation
  • Haversian systems
  • bone functional adaptation
  • bioarchaeology


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