The University of Southampton
HumanitiesPostgraduate study

ARCH6115 Human Skeletal Studies

Module Overview

The first portion of the module comprises the learning of the basics of human osteology and palaeopathology. The second portion is more theoretically driven and integrates bioarchaeology with skeletal analysis, including topics such as age, gender, ethnicity and activity patterning.

Aims and Objectives


This module aims to introduce you to essential aspects of the Osteoarchaeology of humans.

Knowledge and Understanding
Having successfully completed this module you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding:

  • of some of the varying theoretical approaches to the analysis of human skeletal remains
  • of the ethical issues surrounding working with human remains
  • of the use of human skeletal remains as a resource for studying past variability in diet and subsistence, health and disease, social structure and organisation, and population history and migration.

Cognitive (thinking) skills
Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • observe and visually identify human bones
  • evaluate and critique the methods and results of bioarchaeological analyses and studies
  • present information clearly and concisely

Practical (subject specific) skills
Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • identify and sort fragments of human bone
  • undertake and report basic osteological analysis of human skeletons
  • integrate theoretical issues and archaeological questions with empirical data derived from human remains
  • pose and tackle archaeological questions using human skeletal data

Key transferable skills
Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • select appropriate means for recording and analysing data
  • evaluate and critique arguments and material
  • write clear and concise reports
  • undertake oral presentations
  • lead discussion groups


Typically, the syllabus will cover:



The nature of bone & outline of the human skeleton

Human v. non-human, types of bone

Skulls & axial skeleton

Skulls & axial skeleton

Limbs, long bones, hands and feet

Upper and lower limbs

Teeth, dentitions and dental health


Estimating age and sex

Sexing an adult skeleton

Stature and body size

Ageing adult and juvenile skeletons

Trauma, battlefields and bodies

Estimating adult stature

Palaeopathology, disease and infection


Metrics, non-metrics, biodistance and ethnicity

Metric and non-metric analyses

 Taphonomy, burial ritual and funerary archaeology

Archaeologie de terrain (archaeothanatology)

Migration, mobility & chemical analyses (aDNA, isotopes)

Role play of the ethics of working with human remains

Bioarchaeology and identity

Peer review of skeletal report, & completion / correction of report

Learning and Teaching

Study time allocation

Contact hours:48
Private study hours:252
Total study time: 300 hours

Teaching and learning methods

The module involves skeletal data collection and some manipulation of that data. It includes the writing of a concise skeletal report describing a series of human skeletons. The module will be taught primarily through a variety of lectures and practicals, although there will also be informal seminar-style discussions and some role play. Independent study will include repeated and detailed skeletal analysis.

Resources and reading list

Agarwal, S.C. and Glencross, B.A. (eds.) 2011. Social Bioarchaeology. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Bass, W. 1987. Human Osteology. Missouri Archaeological Society.

Brickley, M. and McKinley, J.I. 2004. Guidelines to the Standards for Recording Human Remains. IFA Paper No. 7. Available free at        

Brothwell, D. 1987. Digging Up Bones. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Buikstra, J. E. and Beck, L.A. (eds.) 2006. Bioarchaeology. London: Academic Press.

Buikstra, J and Ubelaker, D. 1994.  Standards for Data Collection from Human Skeletal Remains. Fayetteville: Arkansas Archaeological Survey.

Cox, M. and Mays, S. (eds) 2000. Human Osteology for Archaeology and Forensic Science. London: Greenwich Medical Media.

Grauer, A. (ed) 1995. Bodies of Evidence. Reconstructing History through Skeletal Analysis. New York: Wiley-Liss.

Hillson, S. 1997. Dental Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Iscan, M.Y. and Kennedy, K.A.R. (eds.) 1989. Reconstruction of Life from the Skeleton. New York: Alan R. Liss

Katzenberg, M.A. and Saunders, S.R. (eds) 2008. Biological Anthropology of the Human Skeleton. New York: Wiley-Liss.

Larsen, C.S. 1997. Bioarchaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mays, S. 2010. The Archaeology of Human Bones. London: Routledge.

McKinley, J. and Roberts, C. 1993. Excavation and post-excavation treatment of cremated and inhumed human remains. Institute of Field Archaeologists Technical Paper 13.

Ortner, D. and Putschar, W. 1985. Identification of Pathological Conditions in Human Skeletal Remains. Washington: Smithsonian University Press.

Pinhasi, R. and Mays, S. 2008. Advances in Human Palaeopathology. Chichester: John Wiley.

Roberts, C. 2009. Human Remains in Archaeology: A Handbook. London: Council for British Archaeology.

Roberts, C. and Manchester, K. 2010. The Archaeology of Disease. London: History Press.

Schwartz, J. 1995. Skeleton Keys. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

White, T.D.; Black, M.T. and Folkens, P.A. 2012.  Human Osteology. London: Academic Press.

White, T.D. & Folkens, P.A. 2005. The Human Bone Manual. London: Academic Press.


Assessment methods

  • Assessment 1: Bone fragment tests - 40%
  • Assessment 2: Report describing and evaluating a series of human sekeletons (approx 3000 words) - 35%
  • Assessment 3: Essay (2000 words) - 25%

The bone fragment tests will be undertaken during the sessions and will assess the on-going learning of human skeletal biology. The skeletal report assesses the understanding of the recording and interpretation of human skeletal material. The essay critiques the more theoretical, practical and ethical aspects of working with human remains.


Programmes in which this module is compulsory

MA Osteoarchaeology

ProgrammeUCAS CodeProgramme length
MA OsteoarchaeologyV4001 years
Share this module Facebook Google+ Twitter Weibo

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we will assume that you are happy to receive cookies on the University of Southampton website.