Bones: A Biography

Bones tell the story of humanity

The study of the human skeleton has taught us a considerable amount about where we come from. Our bones are the frame that support us, that protect our organs, and, in conjunction with muscles and ligaments, allow us to move. They produce the blood cells and platelets that are essential for forming new blood and healing wounds. Bones also take the scars of our lifestyle, they show damage and their function is altered by how we live. Osteology, not to be confused with osteopathy, is the study of bones and has given us insight into our evolution. In addition this study can even give awareness of social structures and give details about human mass movements around the world.

Skeletal remains found in excavation

A recent example is during the Crossrail Project in 2013, in which the city of London was planning to expand its railway system. During the works the excavations inadvertently uncovered 25 human skeletons in Charterhouse Square. It was determined that the skeletons were most likely from the mass graves dug to dispose of victims of the Black Death in 14th Century. Osteologists examined the skeletal remains and were able to establish a huge amount of information about the people who were buried there. The researchers were most interested in finding out possible reasons for why the Black Death was so devastating to the population of Europe. Through examination of these bodies they were able to ascertain that the general population was in generally poor health to begin with, thus making the disease even more effective. Detailed investigation found the bodies were riddled with rickets, anaemia and general malnutrition. They also discovered that a large percentage of the population would have suffered broken bones through fighting and hard labour.

What bones can tell us

This research and examination of our ancestors gives us an excellent opportunity to understand what their lives were like and how they lived. Our bones give us a detailed picture of our general health and lifestyle that is otherwise difficult to see. Especially given the decay and rotting the majority of our bodily tissue undergoes after death. This research helps us put the past in its place by putting our ancestor’s lives in context with our own. Malnutrition and poor lifestyle have been a constant problem across our history and although that situation has been vastly improved in the west, the prevalence of osteoporosis worldwide is an indicator that our bones are telling us something. They are telling us that there is still some improvements to make to ensure our children and grandchildren can be as healthy as possible. GOF is working towards a world were in 600 years the excavated skeletons will tell the story of health breakthrough and a wellbeing revolution.

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