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Animal Bones for Archaeologists - ARC00031M

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  • Department: Archaeology
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. David Orton
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23

Module summary

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 most archaeologically-important groups of animals; and the processes which govern the survival of bone over time - always paying particular attention to the implications for archaeological analyses.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Autumn Term 2022-23

Module aims

  • 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.

Module 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.

Module content

The eight weeks of the module are designed to lead you through the different topics you need to understand for effective use of animal bones in archaeology. We start by considering what bone is and how it is formed; then move onto how it survives (or doesn't!) and is modified in archaeological contexts - the field of taphonomy. Four weeks are dedicated to exploring how bones and teeth differ between the main archaeologically important groups of vertebrates, from camelids to codfish. Finally, we turn our attention to understanding growth structures and how we can make best use of different hard tissues in bioarchaeology.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay - 3500 words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Essay - 3500 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

Feedback will be provided within 6 weeks

Indicative reading

Lyman, R.L. 1994. Vertebrate Taphonomy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chapters 1, 2, and 4.

Hillson, S. 2005. Teeth. 2nd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Steele, T. 2015. The contributions of animal bones from archaeological sites: the past and future of zooarchaeology. Journal of Archaeological Science 56: 168-176.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.