Histological and stable isotope analysis of archaeological bones from St. Rombout’s cemetery (Mechelen, Belgium): intra-site, intra-individual, and intra-bone variability

Ioannis Kontopoulos*, Katrien Van de Vijver, Bart Robberechts, Matthew von Tersch, Gordon Turner-Walker, Kirsty Penkman, Matthew J. Collins

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study compares histological preservation in archeological bones from different burial types to unravel the histotaphonomy-to-funerary practices relationship. Αn intraskeletal approach is also adopted to explore intraindividual (inner ear part of the petrous bone vs. upper/lower limb long bones) and intrabone (proximal vs. distal diaphysis) variability in bone collagen preservation, δ13C, and δ15N. The aim is to (a) target bones that likely retain higher amounts of collagen, (b) better understand the inner ear bone collagen isotopic signature and remodeling, and (c) assess intrabone isotopic and histological homogeneity. For the histological analysis, the data have been collected from 61 specimens (20 individuals) from the medieval/postmedieval cemetery of St. Rombout, Belgium. Thin sections have been studied using optical and scanning electron microscopy. For the collagen and isotopic data, 101 samples have been collected from 21 individuals. Distinct histological patterns are observed only in bones from single coffin burials; however, bone histology can display intraindividual and intrabone variability, which are important to account for interpretations. Collagen wt.%, δ13C, and δ15N show significant intraindividual differences but insignificant intrabone variability. This study also confirms the extraordinary nature of the petrous bone, as the inner ear bone collagen δ13C and δ15N values reflect the dietary input of the first approximately 2–3 years of life.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Osteoarchaeology
Publication statusPublished - 3 Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
IK would like to thank the Onassis Foundation (Grant no. F ZL 047‐1/2015‐2016), Leventis Foundation and the Greek Archaeological Committee UK (GACUK). KP thanks the Leverhulme Trust (PLP‐2012‐116) and MJC thanks the DNRF for the award of a Niels Bohr Professorship (DNRF 128).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


  • bone
  • collagen
  • histotaphonomy
  • intrabone
  • intraindividual
  • petrous bone
  • stable isotopes

Cite this