The simplest way to put it is that osteology is the study of skeletal anatomy, whether it be specific to the human skeletal anatomy or any other animal’s skeletal system. It deals in anything having to do with bones: structure, function, growth, pathology, decay, trauma and healing, individual bones, the evolution of bones, et cetera. That means that, while it really is a subset of the overall study of anatomy, osteology really can be considered a subfield of many disciplines, depending on why you’re studying it.
Osteology can be considered a subfield of anthropology, if one is studying the human (as well as nonhuman primate and/or hominid) skeleton for the purposes of archaeology or palaeoanthropology. I plan to go into bioarchaeology and am very interested in how the health and nutrition of an individual is detailed in their bones, so I should be quite comfortable with the human musculoskeletal system. I need to know how to determine other factors like age, growth as they aged, and any history of disease or trauma to the bones. I will also need to know how to re-articulate (or, put back together) a skeleton, because bones can get quite jumbled up over time, especially when they’re just hanging out underground.
In forensic science and bioarchaeology, it is important to look at human remains with both the naked eye and under the microscope in order to determine things like biological sex (not gender, though that can be inferred through a variety of ways), age, cause of death, and how old the bones themselves are.
Human skeletons are studied for the medical practice of orthopedics, which is the basically osteology in action with live patients. An orthopedic surgeon deals with a wide range of things, from knee arthroplasty (replacement) to congenital bone disorders like osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease).
Osteology is studied for a variety of things, like archaeology, forensic science, and medicine, but it’s also studied for things like biophysics, fine arts (for drawing human and animal forms), osteopathy, kinesiology, massage therapy, evolutionary biology, developmental biology, and a bunch of other stuff. It’s a study with a multitude of applications.
- eSkeletons is a really cool comparative anatomy site from the University of Texas at Austin, where you can look at individual bones from a variety of human and nonhuman primate specimen from various angles. It’s got a glossary and other stuff to mess around with!
- The Museum of Osteology in Oklahoma (which I wish to visit one day- the only thing that could coax me into visiting Oklahoma) features a wide collection of skeletons, both human and nonhuman animals. Skulls Unlimited, an affiliated specimen supplier, sells prepared articulated (connected) and disarticulated (disconnected) bones and casts for a wide variety of scientific, forensic, and medical pursuits
- Alexandra, is selling a few skulls (as well as minerals) for some pretty reasonable prices for an individual supplier or animal skulls (I’m too broke to buy one right now, but maybe all y’all are interested)