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Interpreting Animal Remains - ARC00032M

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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
    • See module specification for other years: 2021-22

Module summary

In this module we explore and discuss the many and varied archaeological questions to which animal remains can contribute, from Palaeolithic hunting to post-medieval trade, taking in topics such as domestication, environmental impact, and the cultural roles of animals along the way. We take a broad view of zooarchaeology, incorporating biomolecular approaches alongside conventional osteology.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Spring Term 2022-23

Module aims

  • To demonstrate the potential contribution of zooarchaeology, in the broadest sense, to understanding past human societies in a wide range of contexts.

  • To provide students with a knowledge-base of case studies in zooarchaeological interpretation, covering the Palaeolithic to the present day and spanning much of the world.

  • To enable and encourage students to read published interpretations of animal remains with a critical eye.

  • To provide students with the necessary knowledge and confidence to recommend appropriate analytical approaches to specific animal bone assemblages.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should:

  • Be familiar with the interpretation of zooarchaeological data (including biomolecular data) in a wide range of contexts and using a range of approaches.

  • Be aware of the strengths and limitations of those approaches.

  • Understand the contribution of animal remains to various key issues in archaeology and beyond.

  • Be able critically to evaluate published zooarchaeological studies, including those based on biomolecular techniques.

  • Be able to assess the potential of zooarchaeological assemblages or datasets for future research, and recommend appropriate approaches.

Module content

The module’s eight weeks take us from evidence for past hunting strategies, through the study of domestication and herding practices, to the role of animal bones in complex societies, organised religion, and urban settlements. Along the way, seminars are dedicated to zooarchaeological contributions within exciting topics such as island archaeology, the archaeology of food, and contemporary biodiversity conservation. In addition, a research simulation workshop towards the end of term allows students to recreate the entire zooarchaeological research process in the context of a fictional Neolithic excavation in Turkey: developing research questions, applying sampling strategies, and analysing and interpreting results.


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

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Timing of written and verbal feedback is published on our deadlines pages:

Formative assessment

Summative assessment


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

Module feedback

Feedback will be available within 6 weeks

Indicative reading

Russell, N. 2012. Social Zooarchaeology. 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.

Sykes, N. 2014. Beastly Questions. London: Bloomsbury.

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.