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Ancient Biomolecules - ARC00034M

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  • Department: Archaeology
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Jessica Hendy
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2020-21

Module summary

Studies of ancient biomolecules often dominate bioarchaeological research. This module provides a theoretical background to a range of methods, techniques and applications in the field of ancient biomolecules, including ancient DNA, stable isotope analysis, palaeoproteomics and organic residue analysis. The module will provide a good theoretical basis for anyone interested in pursuing this field at a practical level, and an emphasis will be placed on learning how to evaluate and interpret published research and datasets in the seminar sessions. This module is principally targeted at bioarchaeologists, but will more broadly appeal to anyone who is likely to encounter biomolecular data sets in the course of their research or professional career. Students have said that they enjoy the range of molecular approaches presented in the module and that the staff are enthusiastic about their subjects and explain the topics well.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2020-21

Module aims

  • To provide students with a good understanding of biomolecular preservation in skeletal remains
  • To provide students with an overview of the very latest methodologies used in biomolecular analysis
  • To allow students to place biomolecular data in the wider archaeological or palaeoecological context.

Module learning outcomes

Having completed the course you will:

  • be able to critically evaluate past studies for scientific rigour, cost and knowledge gained
  • be able to recognise the methodological strengths and limitations of various techniques
  • be able to recommend applications where biomolecular analysis is likely to be useful
  • know how to select, conserve and take samples for biomolecular investigations
  • be able to interpret published data sets

Module content

The eight weeks of the module are designed to give you an understanding of the range of different approaches and applications in the analysis of ancient biomolecules. The first four weeks consist of lectures, with each lecture focused on a different molecular approach including ancient DNA, palaeoproteomics, stable isotope analysis and organic residue analysis. The series of lectures will describe how biomolecules are preserved, extracted and analysed from a range of archaeological materials, including ancient skeletal tissues, in order to complement and enhance information gained from macro and microscopic techniques. Following the lectures, four weeks are dedicated to seminars exploring the archaeological applications of these techniques and how different analyses of ancient biomolecules can complement one another to answer overarching archaeological themes, with a focus on critically assessing published research.


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

The formative assessment - a report based on a workshop - enables the students to identify how different strands of evidence can be combined, thus helping them to develop their essays for the summative assessment


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Module feedback

Feedback will be available within 6 weeks

Indicative reading

Richards, M.P. and Britton, K. eds., 2020. Archaeological Science: An Introduction. Cambridge University Press.

Cappellini, E. et al. (2018) ‘Ancient Biomolecules and Evolutionary Inference’, Annual Review of Biochemistry, 87, pp. 1029–1060.

Brown, T. A. and Brown, K. (2011) Biomolecular Archaeology: An Introduction. John Wiley & Sons.

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.