Primary bone retention in a young adult male with limb disuse: a bioarchaeological case study

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

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Bone mineral and mass are abnormally low in limb bones that experience prolonged lack of, or minimal, mechanical stimulation. Cases of ancient human limb paralysis offering an opportunity to examine histological markers of cortical bone modelling and remodelling are rare. To improve our understanding of the spectrum of bone tissue response to its muscular disuse environment in
archaeological contexts, we tested whether bone histology in an individual afflicted with long-term loss of muscle function showed unremodelled primary bone due to minimal/absent, mechanical stimulation. We examined cortical bone histology in a 1906–1523 cal BC atrophied post-cranium of a young adult (mid-20s) male who had suffered from Klippel-Feil Syndrome Type III, experiencing
minimally paraplegia and potentially complete or intermittent quadriplegia in late childhood/early adolescence. Samples taken from the humeral and femoral midshaft displayed thin cortices and extensive retention of primary bone with only localised Haversian tissue or isolated secondary osteons. The retention of widespread primary bone and thin cortices in this adult individual is evidence for stunted modelling and remodelling due to immobility during early ontogeny. Our bone histology descriptions should be of interest to palaeobiologists investigating the effects of physical inactivity on bone microstructure in fossilised and archaeological human remains.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)235-241
Number of pages7
JournalHistorical Biology
Issue number2
Early online date6 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

We are truly indebted to the Vietnamese Academy of Social Sciences, Institute of Archaeology, for permissions and collaboration studying the skeletal remains of this individual. Thanks go to Melandri Vlok and Hallie Buckley for support during fieldwork in Vietnam. Funding for this work was received from the Australian Research Council (DE190100068 to Miszkiewicz), and the Australian National University (to Miszkiewicz and Oxenham). Walker thanks the Australasian Society for Human Biology for a student conference prize awarded for the presentation of this study at the 2019 meetings in Canberra, Australia. The authors thank Dr Gareth Dyke and three anonymous reviewers for invaluable feedback on this article.

Data Availability Statement

Qualitative descriptions of histology are shown in the manuscript alongside histology images. Raw measurements of secondary osteons are available from figshare via Walker et al. (Citation2022) MB07H1M9 humerus osteon measurements https://doi.10.6084/m9.figshare.18131063.


  • palaeohistology
  • biomechanics
  • quadriplegia
  • bone remodelling
  • bone modelling
  • Klippel-Feil Syndrome


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