Human Osteology – TMSE

By Rob Barlow

This week I led the lesson on human osteology, which is the study of human bones. Osteology is valuable to anthropologists and can tell us many things about individual humans or a certain group of people. By studying osteology we can determine sex, genealogy, diet and even disease pathology. Faced with such a broad subject, I felt it would be best to simplify it and just compare human osteology to primate osteology. In particular, I focused on the western chimpanzee, who is native to West Africa and is a great specimen to highlight differences between humans and primates skeletons. The main areas I focused on were skull structure, teeth, pelvis, spine, femora, and feet. The reason I focused on these areas is because they highlight various evolutionary differences and differences in the way sex presents itself in the skeletons.


To begin I gave a very detailed PowerPoint presentation on the osteology of humans compared to primates. I started by comparing the skulls and teeth and talking about why we have the features we have, like a larger brain cavity and smaller teeth, as well as the differences between male and female of both species, also called sexual dimorphism. The rest of the presentation I talked about the spine, femora, pelvis, and feet and I discussed the evolutionary reasons for this and demonstrated how this allowed us to walk upright. The children enjoyed the lesson and had many questions that I answered to my delight, but I urged them to hold the questions until the end of the presentation because they needed to pay attention in order to complete the activity I had planned for them.

For the activity I had the kids become “osteologists” and perform skeletal analysis on a set of bones (casts) that we provided. They were given a skull, pelvis, and femora of either a chimp or human and had to determine what set of bones they had, as well as the sex of the specimen. I also gave them a worksheet that had questions about the specimens main form of locomotion, and what their diet or technology may have been.

Overall the kids were very engaged, they enjoyed holding the casts and I apparently I did as good of a job explaining the material as they did listening, because we ran out of time. Not to worry, we had an extra activity planned and the kids got to learn more about human bones and label them on a sheet. Overall this class was a success and it was a pleasure to teach such a vital part of anthropology to the Mr. Littles class.

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