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Ancient Biomolecules - ARC00034M

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  • Department: Archaeology
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Sophy Charlton
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

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. An emphasis will be placed on how ancient biomolecules can help answer archaeological questions. This module is principally targeted at bioarchaeologists, but will more broadly appeal to anyone who is likely to encounter biomolecular datasets 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 period
A Semester 1 2024-25

Module aims

This module aims:

  • To provide students with a good understanding of biomolecular preservation in archaeological remains
  • To provide students with an overview of the 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, students should be able to:

  • Critically evaluate biomolecular studies for scientific rigour and knowledge gained
  • Assess the methodological strengths and limitations of various techniques
  • Demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of techniques applicable to biomolecular research
  • Demonstrate a practical understanding of how established techniques of research are used to create and interpret knowledge through independent analysis by selecting and taking samples
  • Critically interpret published biomolecular data sets

Module content

This module is designed to give you an understanding of the range of different approaches and applications in the analysis of ancient biomolecules. There will be a mixture of lectures and seminar workshops, with each week focused on a different molecular approach, including ancient DNA, palaeoproteomics, stable isotope analysis and organic residue analysis. Initial sessions will introduce the relevant biomolecules and their preservation over archaeological timescales. Subsequent sessions will describe how biomolecules are extracted and analysed from a range of bioarchaeological materials, from skeletal tissues to material culture to plant remains, in order to complement and enhance information gained from macro and microscopic techniques. Seminar workshops will explore the archaeological applications of these techniques and how different analyses of ancient biomolecules can complement one another to answer overarching archaeological questions.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay : Sampling report
N/A 100

Special assessment rules




Module feedback

Formative: oral feedback from module leaders

Summative: written feedback within the University's turnaround policy

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.

Orlando, L., Allaby, R., Skoglund, P., Der Sarkissian, C., Stockhammer, P.W., Ávila-Arcos, M.C., Fu, Q., Krause, J., Willerslev, E., Stone, A.C. and Warinner, C., 2021. Ancient DNA analysis. Nature Reviews Methods Primers, 1(1), pp.1-26.

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.