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Animal Bones for Archaeologists


Module leader: Dr David Orton

Module overview

This module is for anyone who wants to know more about the animal bones that comprise one of the most common find types on all periods of archaeological sites across the world, but particularly for those likely to be working with bones in a bioarchaeological or zooarchaeological context. We cover the structure, chemistry, and growth of bone; the basic anatomy of the main groups of animals; and the processes which govern the survival of bone over time - in all cases paying particular attention to the implications for archaeological analyses.


  • To provide (a) a detailed introduction to animal bones for the benefit of bioarchaeologists, field archaeologists, and human bones specialists; and (b) a basis for further study in zooarchaeology. 
  • To give an overview of vertebrate anatomy, including the chemistry, structure, and growth of bone and teeth.
  • To explain the processes of deposition and decay of animal remains, and how these can be reconstructed (taphonomy and diagenesis). 
  • To provide students with the tools to make informed decisions about sampling animal remains for a range of purposes.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module, students should:

  • Understand the chemistry, histology, and growth patterns of bones and teeth.
  • Be familiar with the principles and broad pattern of evolutionary anatomy in vertebrates.
  • Understand the principles of taphonomy and diagenesis (i.e. bone survival), and be able to recognise their effects in the field and laboratory.
  • Be able to select suitable samples for biomolecular analyses, microscopic analyses, and scientific dating.

Zooarchaeology practicals