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The Archaeology of the Human Skeleton - ARC00033M

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  • Department: Archaeology
  • Module co-ordinator: Ms. Malin Holst
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

Module summary

The scientific study of human remains provides the best insight into the lives of our ancestors. This course introduces current theories, practice and debates in human osteology, including ethics, excavation, recording, skeletal anatomy, ageing and sexing methods and concepts of mortuary practices, identity and migration. The module examines up-to-date examples from Britain’s rich archaeological record to learn about past populations by studying human skeletal assemblages and their associated contexts.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2024-25

Module aims

This module aims:

  • To provide students with a good understanding of how we study archaeological human remains
  • To provide students with an overview of the latest methodologies and ideas applied to osteoarchaeological, demographic and funerary analysis
  • To allow students to place osteological data into its wider archaeological context

Module learning outcomes

Upon successful completion of the course, students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of techniques applicable to their own research
  • Critically evaluate different metric and morphological techniques that osteoarchaeologists use to study human skeletal remains
  • Demonstrate critical engagement with the ethical and cultural considerations surrounding human remains
  • Demonstrate a practical understanding of how established techniques of research are used to create and interpret knowledge
  • Compile a critical technical report that meets relevant professional standards

Module content

Through an inter-related series of lectures, seminars and practical classes, you will explore current theories, practice and debates in skeletal excavation, ethics, osteology, and funerary archaeology.

You will be introduced to the requirements of osteoarchaeological professional standards, learn about ethics, burial legislation, health and safety aspects of working as an osteoarchaeologist, and gain an understanding of how to excavate and record human skeletal remains. You will be introduced to the roles of other shareholders of cemetery excavations, how to work with clients, as well as post-excavation strategies of reburial and display of human remains.

You will become familiar with the skeletal and dental anatomy of adults and non-adults, ageing and sexing techniques, metric and morphological analyses of human skeletons from archaeological backgrounds, as well as concepts of migration, identity and funerary archaeology. We will draw on recent examples from the rich archaeological record that exists in Britain to see what can be learnt about past populations by studying human skeletal assemblages and their associated contexts.


Task Length % of module mark
Closed/in-person Exam (Centrally scheduled)
2 hours 30
Lab notebook
N/A 70

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Closed/in-person Exam (Centrally scheduled)
2 hours 30
Lab notebook
N/A 70

Module feedback

Formative: oral feedback from module leaders

Summative: written feedback within the University's turnaround policy

Indicative reading

Cox, M. and Mays, S. 2000 Human Osteology in Archaeology and Forensic Science (London)

Mays, S. 2010. The Archaeology of Human Bones (London)

Roberts, C.A. 2009. Human Remains in Archaeology: a Handbook (York)

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.