Preparing Skeletons for Research and Teaching from Preserved Human Specimens

As the need for access to human bone exponentially increases in forensics and academics, supply is decreasing through repatriation of remains and restricted access to collections. Currently underutilized sources of human skeletal material from preserved tissue offer a solution. Earliest preservation and skeletonization techniques followed guidelines that were very different from the present. Most focus today has been on non-preserved tissue; there is a practical need for research with fixed specimens. Producing dry skeletons without bone modification from preserved tissue must be exact, as they do not macerate easily. For this study three complete preserved human specimens were tested to determine which process would produce the most viable dry bone. Commercially available emulsifying products were used for maceration: laundry and dish detergent, baking soda, meat-tenderizer, and ammonia. These were compared to \]texture, ease of tissue removal, and bone quality were compared based on the work of Steadman et al. (2006). Our results show that combinations of solutions provide very similar results; sodium bicarbonate consistently scored highest in all categories evaluated. Due to the incredible variations between skeletal elements in size, shape, and structure, a reproducible method for an entire skeleton with limited chemistry must be undertaken. In future studies, the most important rate-limiting factor will be removing preserved marrow without altering bone quality. These trials showed what not to do in future work as much as what direction to take.