How to compare human & animal bones

Written by jill lee
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Human and animal remains can be found together. Distinguishing human bones from animal bones is easy if the bones are whole and easily recognisable, such as a human skull. When bones are fragmented or small, they are more difficult to distinguish.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Compare the facial size of the cranial bones. Humans have small faces in comparison with the rest of the cranium; animals have larger faces.

  2. 2

    Note whether the skull has a chin. Human skulls and facial bones will have a chin; animals will not.

  3. 3

    Analyse the jaw shape and separation. Humans have a U-shaped jaw with no separation along the middle of the jaw; animals generally have a V-shaped jaw that separates at the midline.

  4. 4

    Look at the teeth when analysing the jawbones. Humans usually have 32 teeth with small canines and molars that feature rounded divots and grooves. Most animals have fewer teeth than humans. Carnivores have larger canines than humans and herbivores have very small canines or none at all. Herbivore molars are broader and flatter than human molars.

  5. 5

    Consider the shape and size of the upper limbs. Since most animals walk on all fours, their upper limb bones are generally thicker and larger than human arm bones relative to the overall size of the skeleton.

  6. 6

    Compare the curvature of the spine. While humans have four curves to the spine, animal spines are relatively straight by comparison.

  7. 7

    Analyse the length and width of the rib cage. The human rib cage is short and broad, while the rib cages of most animals are long and narrow because of their longer torsos.

  8. 8

    Examine femur lengths. The femur is the longest bone in the human body. Animal femurs are usually about the same length as the other limbs.

  9. 9

    Check to see if the tibia and fibula are fused. The tibia and fibula are the thinner bones that make up the lower leg. In humans, the tibia and fibula are separate, but they are often fused in animals to provide more support.

  10. 10

    Look at the foot structure. Human feet are long and narrow, allowing weight to be distributed on the heel and the toes. Animal feet are broad and short because most of the weight bearing is on the toes.

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