What is Osteology? - Definition & Terms

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
Are you into bones? Especially the very specific nuances and details of bones? If so, then the field of osteology may be up your alley. Learn its definition and some of its terms here.

What Is Osteology?

Make no bones about it, there are a lot of very specific scientific fields. There is physics, chemistry, and biology. There are subfields of each one, like biomedical sciences. There are even subfields of subfields, like human medicine and veterinary medicine. There are even nuanced variations of the latter two.

And just like all of that, osteology, the study (-ology) of the structure and function of bones (osteo-), is very specific and refined as well. It's not just about bones in general, it's about specific bones, unique notches and grooves of each bone, and nuanced variations that may be normal or not of those notches and grooves.

The Skull

Let's go over a couple examples of how this is true and learn some osteology-related terms along the way. The skull is the skeleton of your head. It includes all of the bones of the head, including the lower jaw. You'd think that the skull is this one thing. But it's not. It's actually a collection of over 20 bones! The skull can be divided numerous ways. For example, we can divide it in two general ways. One part of the skull consists of the facial bones, the ones that make up the face, and the other part consists of bones that make up the neurocranium, which holds the brain.

The skull is composed of many different bones, some of which are pictured and labeled here.

Yet there are hiccups even with this simple delineation of the skull. For instance, the cranium is partly composed of the frontal bone. This is the bone of the forehead. You'd think that because we associate the forehead with our face, it would be a part of the facial bones. Alas, while the frontal bone is also part of the facial skeleton in some sense, it's developmentally considered to be a cranial bone. See what that intro bit about all sorts of nuances in science was all about? Now you know that it applies to osteology as well; it's a very intricate field.

The Ribs & Sternum

Then there's the ribs and sternum, the breastbone. These bony structures help to protect vital structures like our lungs and heart from damage. They also help us breathe. Just put your hands on your ribcage as you take in a breath and exhale to see and feel why.

The breastbone is divided into three parts. From top to bottom they are labeled: manubrium, body, and xyphoid process. You can also see the notches where the true ribs articulate with the sternum.

The ribs and sternum are just as nuanced as the skull in some ways. For example, the sternum can be divided into three distinct sections. Nearest the head is the manubrium, then comes the body, and nearest the feet is the smallest portion, called the xiphoid process.

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