Saving Old Bones: a non-destructive method for bone collagen prescreening

Matt Sponheimer, Christina M. Ryder, Helen Fewlass, Erin K. Smith, William J. Pestle, Sahra Talamo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Bone collagen is an important material for radiocarbon, paleodietary, and paleoproteomic analyses, but it degrades over time, making such analyses more difficult with older material. Collagen preservation between and within archaeological sites is also variable, so that much time, effort, and money can go into the preparation and initial analysis of samples that will not yield meaningful results. To avoid this, various methods are employed to prescreen bone for collagen preservation (e.g., %N, microporosity, and FTIR spectroscopic analyses), but these are often destructive and/or require exportation for analysis. Here, we explore near-infrared spectroscopy as a tool for gauging the collagen content of ground and whole bone from about 500 to 45,000 years ago. We show that a portable spectrometer’s ability to quantify collagen content and classify specimens by preservation status is comparable to that of other popular prescreening methods. Moreover, near-infrared spectroscopy is non-destructive and spectra can be acquired in a few seconds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number13928
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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