Italian scientists say they've turned to seashells for inspiration for a technique of better preserving bones for archaeologists and paleontologists to study.
Looking into humanity's past by studying ancient bones can hit a snag when they deteriorate, the researchers said, as a process similar to osteoporosis causes bones discovered at historically significant sites to become brittle and fragile.
Current techniques to harden and strengthen bones use vinyl and acrylic polymers that act as a kind of glue to fill in cracks and hold fragments together, but can cause damage and lead to the loss of important information.
Writing in the American Chemical Society's journal Langmuir, researcher Luigi Dei of the University of Florence and colleagues report turning to seashells for inspiration, growing aragonite -- a kind of lime that some sea animals produce to shore up their shells -- on fragile skeletal fragments from the Late Middle Ages.
Growing the aragonite in a controlled way hardened the surfaces of the bones, as well as the pores inside them, making the ancient remains 50 percent to 70 percent sturdier, they said.
"These results could have immediate impact for preserving archaeological and paleontological bone remains," the researchers said.