Week 8: Comparison of bones of Isbister and Quanterness

In 1989 Bacon,G. E. compared two neolithic tribes using human bones from the Isbister tomb and the Quanterness tomb. He used Neutron diffraction method, application of neutron scattering to determine the atomic and magnetic structure of a material.  This technique was used to determine the orientation of the hydroxyapatite crystals at the lower front edge of the tibia in this study (Bacon, 1990). Hydroxyapatite crystals are inorganic mineral which includes calcium phosphate, calcium carbonate, calcium fluoride, calcium hydroxide and citrate and makes up about 70% of the bone (Petchey, no date).

According to Bacon, a  macroscopic study carried out by Chesterman, J.T. in 1981 suggested that people from the isbister tribe were muscular (both sexes), ankle joints had suffered much hard work carrying, pushing or pulling loads uphill. In the study, 57 out of 88 tibia from the isbister tomb showed ‘Squatting facet’ which indicated muscular effort and increased mobility of the joint. Depression of skull bones were also found which could have been due to bearing weight from a strap or rope over the head.

Unlike the Isbister tomb, the bones in the Quanterness showed no muscular development and only 1 squatting facet on an adult tibia was found. No skull depressions were found in the skulls from Quanterness.

The differences could be due to the geographical area the two tribes lived in. Isbister is located in the hilly area thus pulling of loads, climbing of hills resulted in more muscular work. Whereas the Quanterness is at ground level sloping gently to the sea.

I will provide more information of the conclusion and methods used for comparison and study of the bones from the tombs in next few weeks. I will also try to find articles that I can access as most of the articles were not accessible.


Bacon, G.E. (1990). The dependence of human bone texture on life style. Great Britain, 240, 363-370. Available from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.westminster.ac.uk/stable/49517?sid=primo&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Petchey, F. (no date). Bone. Available from http://www.c14dating.com/bone.html


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