Last week we introduced the students to osteology. This week we brought some more bone castes and taught the students about human osteology. We focused on the process of sexing skeletons. Physical anthropologists can tell many things from studying a human skeleton. One of the easier things to determine is the biological sex of the person.
Before starting the activity, we showed the students some of these features using the castes. For each group we provided both a female and male skull as well as female and male pelvises due to the fact that these are the most useful for determining the sex of skeletons. We showed the students that male pelvises have part of a bone that bends forward whereas a female does not. This bone, called the sacrum, is more straight in women so that is does not act as an obstruction during childbirth. We also showed the students that male skulls have a tendency to be more robust and less smooth than female skulls.
The activity that we did with the students was called the “Skeleton in the Basement” activity. We modified this activity from the Smithsonian’s website. The students were given pictures of a skull and a pelvis and we asked to determine whether the skeleton was male or female. The students went through a checklist of features and decided whether each feature was male or female. The checklist is important because each skeleton can have both male and female features. What is important to consider is which features are more prevalent.
“These are the same bones, why do they look so different?” One of the students asked me this question before the class even started. They look different because they have different functions. All bones are different because of the life of the person to which they belonged. A person’s life is written in their bones, and this is what makes human osteology so interesting.