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Practical Skills: Biomolecular Archaeology


Module leader: Dr Michelle Alexander


  • To introduce the intellectual context and working methods of the study of biomolecules from archaeological deposits such as bones and pottery residues.
  • To direct students to the critical published sources on this topic
  • To encourage a questioning approach to the collection and analysis of a specific class of archaeological data

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • Discuss the range of research questions that might be addressed by studying ancient biomolecules
  • Explain the principles of GLP (Good Laboratory Practice)
  • Maintain a Lab Book 
  • Read and write a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)
  • Understand the importance of consistency, time-keeping, and good record-keeping in practical work
  • Perform a range of practical techniques involved in collagen extraction
  • Perform an analysis on biomolecular data, specifically protein mass spectrometry (ZooMS) and stable isotope analysis
  • Critically evaluate research articles on biomolecular archaeology 



Further information

This module builds on the first year module Introduction to Archaeological Science where students have been introduced to the scientific methods used in the study of animal remains.

Through the term, students will be expected to develop their skills in critiquing recent papers in biomolecular archaeology, and begin to explore data (students will conduct their own data analysis in the co-requisite module the following term so it is important that they understand good practice). The formative assessment is designed to provide training and a similar summative assessment is handed in at the end term. Students will be encouraged to keep a lab notebook during term and a computer practical test will provide the assessment of their laboratory skills.


This module not only provides practical skills in a certain area but also gives students the opportunity to develop the following skills: 

  • Self management: it is of vital importance that you learn the practical skills this term so you can apply them next term to your team project so you will need to manage your time well and spend about 10 hours a week in independent study
  • Communication: you will be learning how to communicate the results of work and should be developing both your written and verbal communication skills
  • Team working: although the focus of team working comes next term it is a good idea to begin to work with others in the group and think about how to lead, and follow, effectively
  • Problem solving: this module will require a capacity for analysis, synthesis and the ability to evaluate information from a range of sources
  •  Social, cultural and global awareness: you may be considering case studies from an international context within this module. You should also appreciate the ethical issues involved.
  • Application of IT: you will be using the internet for a range of sources and you will be using word processing packages and spreadsheets for presentation of your work
  • Application of numeracy: you will be thinking about how to interpret data