The University of Southampton
HumanitiesPostgraduate study

ARCH6126 Bioarchaeology of Human Remains

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. The module will start by detailing the skeletal anatomy of the human body. In this part of the module, you will learn detailed skeletal human bioarchaeology. In the later part of the module, you will start to implement more interpretative aspects, such as assigning age, sex and stature to skeletons. Aspects of health and disease, and the identification of palaleopathology, will be developed and considered. You will also study aspects of funerary archaeology and its integration with skeletal studies and taphonomy to develop archaeologies of death and burial.

Aims and Objectives

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

  • varying approaches to the analysis of human skeletal remains
  • the ethical issues surrounding working with human remains
  • 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

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


The module syllabus will typically include the following components:

  • The nature of bone & outline of the human skeleton: this will encompass briefly considering the construction of bone and the organisation of the human skeleton.
  • Skulls & axial skeleton: the skeletal anatomy of the head, vertebrae, pelvis, scapulae, clavicles and sternum
  • Limbs, long bones, hands and feet: skeletal anatomy of the arms and legs, distinguishing hands from feet
  • Teeth, dentitions and dental health: or… why you should remember to brush your teeth
  • Estimating age and sex: children, the differences between social, chronological and biological ages, and between sex and gender
  • Stature and body size: reconstructing adult height
  • Trauma, battlefields and bodies: breaking bones, weaponry and bodily protection
  • Palaeopathology, disease and infection, including study of syphilis, TB, and leprosy
  • Metrics, non-metrics, biodistance and ethnicity, including critique of whether race exists
  • Taphonomy, burial ritual and funerary archaeology: how can we get an identity from bioarchaeology?
  • Migration, mobility & chemical analyses (aDNA, isotopes): where do these people come from and what did they eat?
  • Ethics of working with human remains: what are the ethical considerations of study, curation and repatriation?

Learning and Teaching

Study time allocation

Contact hours:48
Private study hours:102
Total study time: 150 hours

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include

  • Lecture detailing aspects of skeletal identification or methodology
  • Short student presentations on key bioarchaeology texts
  • Practical work developing bioarchaeological identification and analysis skills

Learning activities include

  • Practical work
  • Summative bone fragment tests
  • Role play
  • Peer review of bone report in advance of submission

Resources and reading list

These are the key books/articles for this module, all of them currently in the library:

 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.

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.

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 Method


% contribution to final mark

Final assessment (√)

  • 1. Bone tests




  • 2. Skeletal Bone Report



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