Bone is a mechanically active, three-dimensionally (3D) complex, and dynamic tissue that changes in structure over the human lifespan. Bone tissue exists and remodels in 3D and changes over time, introducing a fourth dimension. The products of the remodelling process, secondary and fragmentary osteons, have been studied substantially using traditional two-dimensional (2D) techniques. As a result, much has been learned regarding the biological information encrypted in the histomorphology of bone, yielding a wealth of information relating to skeletal structure and function. Three-dimensional imaging modalities, however, hold the potential to provide a much more comprehensive understanding of bone microarchitecture. The visualization and analysis of bone using high-resolution 3D imaging will improve current understandings of bone biology and have numerous applications in both biological anthropology and biomedicine. Through recent technological advancements, we can hone current anthropological applications of the analysis of bone microstructure and accelerate research into the third and fourth dimensional realms. This review will explore the methodological approaches used historically by anthropologists to assess cortical bone microstructure, spanning from histology to current ex vivo imaging modalities, discuss the growing capabilities of in vivo imaging, and conclude with an introduction of novel non-histological modalities for investigating bone quality.
Keywords: Forensic science; bone quality; cortical bone; ex vivo; forensic anthropology; histological age estimation; in vivo; micro-CT; synchrotron.