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4 New Recording Forms

The recourse to developing skeletal recording forms for individual purposes by most of the respondents in the CAPA survey shows the lack of adequate standardised forms in the literature. My own experience in trying to adapt and digitise any of the existing forms in order to connect them to a database – which would allow for easier evaluation of preservation of bones and bone fragments in any large skeletal series, and cross-referencing the presence with other relevant osteological/archaeological data – proved impossible and prompted me to develop three relatively simple schematic forms with all bones present that, in addition, would not require repetition.

Here three forms are provided, one for an adult, one for a child, and one for a newborn individual. These categories are large, and the 'child' one in particular subsumes a number of changes associated with growth. However, it would be impracticable to develop a form for each of the stages recognised by paediatricians. Furthermore, in cases of poor preservation, even fragmented juvenile bones are often recognised by their general aspect, although age category cannot be assigned with any degree of accuracy. In developing the forms I have modified the usage of terms as used by Scheuer and Black 2000 (appendix 1, 468–69). The 'neonate' refers to all prenatal/perinatal/neonatal and infant skeletons (comprising theoretically all the individuals from conception to one year of age). The 'child' refers to any individual from one year to the closure of the spheno-occipital synchondrosis which Scheuer and Black put at approximately 15 years (2000, 59, 469, table 51). The chronological age boundary between child and adult is not strict and both groups can comprise individuals between 15–18 years of age, depending on the status of epiphyses closure. The 'adult' refers to all individuals above that age with no deciduous teeth present and all primary and secondary centres of ossification in the process of closure or closed.

The forms can be printed out and filled in manually, or they can be downloaded and completed in Adode Photoshop or a similar graphics program. The preserved portion is outlined with a line tool and then filled in with a bucket tool. In order to record every possible bone fragment, I suggest using the following colour scheme:

Any further sophistication or use of colours for indicating different observations is possible (in some cases I used different colours to refer to fragments of the same bone found in different burial assemblages). I would caution, on the other hand, against over-charging the forms with details that would make it more difficult to read.

Still some problems remain. One such problem arises when only the posterior fragment of the bone is preserved while only the anterior view is presented on the forms. For most of the bones this is not a serious disadvantage, but some of them, like scapula, have important structures in the posterior view that can be present when the rest of the bone is not. The only absolute solution to a comprehensive skeletal recording form would be a 3-D image. While R. Arora and I (at the University of Toronto at Mississauga) are currently experimenting with 3-D, the technology required would make it a very expensive tool, and, furthermore, it would still be impractical in most field situations regardless of the widespread use of laptops. Therefore, the forms remain two-dimensional and some adjustments are made to accommodate these concerns. I have opted for dotted line rather than presenting both anterior and posterior views of the bone, since adding the posterior view of any bone would change the concept of the form and require adding all other posterior views, which in turn would make repetitions necessary. Since a number of different colours/patterns can be used to fill in the forms, a specific colour or pattern can be set aside for posterior fragments only. Even though the primary function of these forms is recording presence of bones and bone fragments, they are often used for other purposes, i.e. to indicate placement of pathological or taphonomic changes (T. Rogers, pers. comm. 01/03). These requirements could be dealt with by introducing different colours and symbols on the existing form rather than creating a second or even third.

The forms are presented in a variety of forms here for either printing or downloading as digital files (when they could be customised relatively easily using a graphics package). I will be more than glad to expand or adapt them further according to comments by practising human osteologists. Within a year, it is hoped that they will be offered in their digitised form as templates for a database program (currently under construction by Roksandic and Arora at the University of Toronto) [3] that will make manipulation of data on preservation easier for large series of skeletal remains without the need to enter information textually or numerically.


Even though 'visual recording forms' are one of the most commonly used tools by human osteologists and one of the first steps in the analysis of the skeletal series, they are rarely published. Ideally, one form should be sufficient to record all elements that are present in the skeleton and thus provide the basic background information when dealing with any aspect of analysis that requires understanding bone presence and preservation within the studied series. Since the bones are three-dimensional, and skull and pelvis are composed of numerous bones comprising a sphere or a cylinder, the most efficient way to represent them is to spread them out in a two-dimensional manner and thus enable recording of all the skeletal elements on a single form. The forms presented here are schematic representations of skeletons of an adult, a child and a newborn, drawn in this way with sufficient detail and without repetition. While they are ultimately to be used in a comprehensive graphics and database program still under development, even as basic printable forms they represent an improvement over those already published. I hope that with further comments and suggestions for improvements from colleagues in the field, they will become a standard tool for recording bone presence, this very basic initial step in human osteological analysis.

[3] The concept of the program is simple, its aim being that a user draws the lines on the visual form approximating the preserved portions of the bone and fills the portion with colour (using a bucket tool). The graphics program recognises the anatomical part the colour covers, and prompts the user to a database entry for different information on that bone/portion of bone. DB enables quick access to information concerning each bone/bone fragment. For example, if a specific anatomical feature of the radius is of interest, it can list the feature plus the number of radii in the collection and, if requested, further divided by side, sex, age and any other feature. If there is possible commingling (due to ancestral rituals or excavation procedures) and a researcher wants to check for possible correspondence of different fragments (if they fit together or are symmetrical), then all proximal and medial fragments of the same bone/same side/same age/same sex can be 'pulled out' and compared. In large series this reduces the number of burials (closed contexts) checked, which is beneficial both in terms of saving time required for the analyses, and in terms of bone preservation itself, since fewer bones need to be handled. If these forms are downloaded without size reduction and filled in, even their non-digitised version can be later read by the program and incorporated into a larger database.

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