Is X-ray diffraction able to distinguish between animal and human bones?

Giampaolo Piga, Giuliana Solinas, T. J.U. Thompson, Antonio Brunetti, Assumpció Malgosa, Stefano Enzo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


The possibility of determining the human or animal origin of bones from the lattice parameters of their inorganic bioapatite phase, when subjected to a high temperature treatment using the powder X-ray diffraction (XRD) technique, has been explored on a wide number of specimens. Forty-two animal bones were treated in a furnace at 1100 °C for 36 min and compared to 53 cremated human bones from a range of ancient necropolises. The X-ray diffraction patterns of bioapatite were simulated using both monoclinic P21/b and hexagonal P63/m structures to verify any occurrence of phase transformation and any difference in the lattice parameters due to the model. It was determined that the differences between the a-axis and c-axis of the monoclinic and hexagonal lattice were unimportant. Some outlying values were revealed to be caused by the presence of chlorine ions diffused into the apatite structure increasing its average unit cell values. Nevertheless, our results clearly show that in terms of lattice parameters the variability of human specimens are completely overlapped by the non-human variability making the use of XRD in order to distinguish animal from human bones questionable. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)778-785
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013


  • Animal bones
  • Heat treatment
  • Human bone identification
  • Human bones
  • Hydroxylapatite
  • Lattice parameters
  • Powder X-ray diffraction


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