Continued cortical bone appositional growth after metacarpal fusion - CABA 2022
Metacarpal radiogrammetry provides archaeologists with a non-destructive method to quantify cortical bone and bone loss in past populations. Some archaeological bone loss studies include individuals with fully fused metacarpals, regardless of age, while the other criteria require individuals over 18 years old. As cortical bone apposition continues into the third decade of life, it is necessary to clarify this inclusion criteria for cortical bone studies. This study investigates the possibility of continued appositional bone growth of second and third metacarpals in individuals between the ages of 16 and 20 and discusses how cortex differences may impact bioarchaeological sample selection and bone mass results.
Using hand-wrist X-Rays from the longitudinal Burlington Growth study, second and third metacarpal cortical indices were compared between ‘adolescent’ (16 years) and ‘young adult’ individuals (20 years; 18 year-olds were used when the 20 year-old radiograph was absent) (female n=26; male n=19). Cortical indices of adolescents and young adults were strongly correlated for the second (r=0.894, p>0.001) and third metacarpals (r=0.812, p>0.001). However, when the data were analyzed as paired, individual-specific values, cortical indices significantly increased with age (second metacarpal: Z=-2.929, p=0.003; third metacarpal: Z=-3.189, p=0.001). The high correlation suggests that bone mass in adolescence is a strong predictor of bone mass in young adulthood, but the evidence that appositional bone growth continues suggests that they are not interchangeable. We propose that the metacarpals of 16 year-old adolescents be used to represent young adult bone mass only when necessary (e.g., small sample sizes). Due to continued appositional bone growth, future cortical bone studies should treat the fused metacarpals of individuals under 18 years as a separate age category.