An Investigation of Micro-CT Analysis of Bone as a New Diagnostic Method for Paleopathological Cases of Osteomalacia

Int J Paleopathol. 2020 Dec:31:23-33. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpp.2020.08.004. Epub 2020 Sep 11.


Objective: This paper looks to broaden the methodological possibilities for diagnosing osteomalacia in archaeological bone using micro-CT analysis. Increasing the identification of osteomalacia in paleopathology will provide support for important interpretive frameworks.

Materials: Nine embedded and two unembedded rib fragments were sourced from St. Martin's Birmingham and Ancaster, UK, and Lisieux Michelet, France. Of the 11 samples, nine were previously confirmed as osteomalacic, and presented with varying levels of diagenesis and two were non-osteomalacic controls, one of which exhibits diagenetic change.

Methods: Micro-CT, backscattered scanning electron microscopy, and light microscopy were employed. Micro-CT images were evaluated for osteomalacic features using corresponding microscopic images.

Results: Micro-CT images from osteomalacic samples demonstrated the presence of defective mineralization adjacent to cement lines, areas of incomplete mineralization, and resorptive bays/borders, three key diagnostic features of osteomalacia. Diagenetic change was also detectable in micro-CT images, but did not prevent the diagnosis of osteomalacia.

Conclusions: Micro-CT analysis is a non-destructive method capable of providing microstructural images of osteomalacic features in embedded and unembedded samples. When enough of these features are present, micro-CT images are capable of confirming a diagnosis of osteomalacia.

Significance: Vitamin D deficiency has important health consequences which operate throughout the life course. Increasing the ability to detect cases of vitamin D deficiency provides researchers with a greater understanding of health and disease in past communities.

Limitations: Only adult rib samples were used.

Suggestions for further research: Paleopathologists should look to test the utility of micro-CT analysis in diagnosing active rickets in subadult individuals.

Keywords: Bioarchaeology; Metabolic Disease; Microcomputed Tomography; Microscopy; Vitamin D.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Bone and Bones / diagnostic imaging
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Osteomalacia / diagnostic imaging*
  • Paleopathology / methods*
  • Vitamin D Deficiency
  • X-Ray Microtomography*
  • Young Adult