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The survival of organic matter in bone : a review.

Collins, M. J. and Nielsen-Marsh, C. M. and Hiller, J. and Smith, C. I. and Roberts, J. P. and Prigodich, R. V. and Wess, T. J. and Csapò, J. and Millard, A. R. and Turner-Walker, G. (2002) 'The survival of organic matter in bone : a review.', Archaeometry., 44 (3). pp. 383-394.


If bone is considered as a composite of collagen (protein) and bioapatite (mineral), then three pathways of diagenesis are identified: (1) chemical deterioration of the organic phase; (2) chemical deterioration of the mineral phase; and (3) (micro) biological attack of the composite. The first of these three pathways is relatively unusual and will only occur in environments that are geochemically stable for bone mineral. However, because rates of biomolecular deterioration in the burial environment are slow, such bones would yield useful biomolecular information. In most environments, bones are not in thermodynamic equilibrium with the soil solution, and undergo chemical deterioration (path 2). Dissolution of the mineral exposes collagen to biodeterioration, and in most cases the initial phase of dissolution will be followed by microbial attack (path 3). Biological attack (3) also proceeds by initial demineralization; therefore paths 2 and 3 are functionally equivalent. However,in a bone that follows path 3 the damage is more localized than in path 2, and regions equivalent to path 1 may therefore exist outside these zones of destruction. Other biomolecules, such as blood proteins, cellular lipids and DNA, exist within the physiological spaces within bone.For these biomolecules, death history may be particularly important for their survival.

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Date of first online publication:August 2002
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