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 Paleoradiography   scoping review 

 A research project investigating guidance for   radiography of archaeological dry bone 

An account of the paleoradiography scoping review research project.

James Elliott - March 2022

Scoping reviews and investigating radiography of archaeological dry bone

A scoping review aims to quantify and characterise the existence of evidence for a specific topic or area of research. Scoping reviews inform the investigator what evidence is available to identify gaps in the knowledge base and areas for future research. A key question I had whilst researching the use of radiography in archaeology was - 'What guidance already exists for radiography of archaeological human dry bones?'

The aim of the study was to quantify and characterise current knowledge and recommendations related to radiographic technique or imaging workflow. These are both practical aspects of data acquisition rather than purely image interpretation (e.g. identifying a pathology on the bone). Knowing the 'correct' way of imaging ensures a repeatable methodology and consistency across research projects.

This project was part of my College of Radiographers' Industry Partnership Scheme research grant which was awarded in 2020. Whilst we were confined to our homes during the Covid-19 crisis, I undertook this desk-based project as an extended literature review prior to the radiographic survey completed with Adelina Teoaca (Canterbury Archaeological Trust). 

The research study has been published within the peer-reviewed journal Internet Archaeology and can be viewed below. This webpage provides a summary of the research.


  • The goal was to identify peer-reviewed literature regarding radiographic technique or imaging workflow for archaeological human dry bone.

  • Published between 2001-2021 in the English language.

  • 244 potential studies were identified.

  • Refined to 31 after assessment of Title/Abstract.

  • 21 studies included within review after full reading of text.

  • Results

    • 14 primary research articles​

    • 4 academic textbooks

    • 3 guidance or protocol articles

  • Relevance to scoping review goal​

    • 17 accounts of radiography technical guidance​

    • 9 accounts of imaging workflow

    • 3 accounts of quantitative analysis

  • Application of radiography - Pathologies, cortical thickness, Harris lines, trauma, dental assessment, age at death, sex estimation, photodensitometry and documentation prior to reburial.​

The full study is available below, or can be viewed on Internet Archaeology. The article is Open Access and can be shared freely.

Main findings:

Peer-reviewed literature regarding radiographic technique or imaging workflow of archaeological human dry bones are sparse, but guidance exists and may help to direct researchers interested in imaging human remains.

The results of the review indicates that radiography of bones is primarily for diagnosis of pathologies. Whilst this is not surprising, the scoping review also highlighted many other areas of investigation. For example, radiography has been used to quantify Harris lines (as signs of biological stress), bone density (photodensitometry) and bone loss (radiogrammetry). All of which are dependent upon accurate and reproducible radiographic technique to ensure parity across datasets.

During the search process there were many articles which demonstrated the use of radiography within their results, but lacked any form of methodological account. Basic details regarding radiographic positioning and exposure factors were needed for inclusion, ideally with accompanying text validating the methodological choice or discussing its use.


The book by Chhem and Brothwell (2008) provides a good overview of pathologies seen in archaeological bone (on x-ray). There are also many, many examples of radiography being used with archaelogical bone in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology and the International Journal of Paleopathology.


An exploration of how radiography may be applied to archaeological bone would be useful, however this review specifically explored the practical nature of radiography.  

The future?

The results of the scoping review indicated that more research was needed regarding radiographic technique of archaeological human dry bones. Specifically, greater work on methodologies for radiogrammetry and photodensitometry. An interesting finding was the importance of photographic documentation of remains alongside radiography. As such, the integration of photography in paleoradiography would also benefit from further research.

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