The taphonomy of blood components in decomposing bone and its relevance to physical anthropology

Annalisa Cappella, Barbara Bertoglio, Elisa Castoldi, Emanuela Maderna, Alessia Di Giancamillo, Cinzia Domeneghini, Salvatore Andreola, Cristina Cattaneo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives The variation and persistence of blood components, in particular red blood cells (RBCs), within bone tissue during the decomposition process, especially at the early stages and in different taphonomic conditions, has never been thoroughly investigated, regardless of the fact that knowing how blood survives or degrades within bone could be of help in solving many anthropological issues, such as trauma analysis and interpretation. Materials and Methods This research investigated the influence of time and taphonomy on the persistence and detectability of blood components in parietal bone fragments (of different post mortem periods and taphonomic conditions) through histological (Hematoxilin and Eosin, HE) and immunohistochemical (Glycophorin A, GYPA) analyses. Results The immunohistochemical investigation for GYPA showed the presence of RBCs under the form of erythrocyte debris or residues otherwise morphologically unidentifiable using only HE staining. Hence, while well-defined RBCs can be observed only in the first week of decomposition, afterward these structures can be detectable with certainty only by immunohistochemical analysis, which reveals discrete quantities of RBC residues also in dry bone (post mortem interval, or PMI, of 15 years), but not in archaeological samples, in which the greater PMI and the different taphonomic conditions together could be the answer behind such difference. Discussion This study highlights the usefulness and potential of immunohistochemical detection of GYPA in RBC investigation and gives a realistic idea of the persistence and detectability of erythrocytes in different osteological taphonomic conditions, in contrast to results reported by some authors in literature. Another important result concerns the detection of RBC residues in dry bone, which opens the way to the possible use of RBCs in trauma interpretation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)636-645
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2015


  • decomposition
  • erythrocyte detection
  • microtaphonomy
  • skeletal remains

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Medicine(all)
  • Anthropology


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