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The University of Southampton

ARCH2027 Bones, bodies and burials: osteology and comparative anatomy

Module Overview

This module examines the variation within the mammalian skeleton from an evolutionary and functional perspective. Additionally, it gives an overview of the main methodological and theoretical issues in the retrieval, treatment and interpretation of bone finds from archaeological sites and the relationship between humans and other animals. The module looks at patterns in bodily treatment and disposal, and the use and management of animal populations. It integrates practical study of human and animal bones with discussions of disease, diet, burial context, age and sex. It uses both practical sessions and lectures to develop your knowledge of mammal skeletons, and then project work to extend analyses into interpreting archaeological assemblages of bodies and bones.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• Introduce students to the mammalian skeleton and its interpretation in archaeological studies • Develop student’s skills in the identification and observation of the various bones in human and animal skeletons • Introduce students to the variability that relates to sex, age, and pathology. • Familiarise students with the use of osteological data to produce technical faunal bone reports

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • knowledge of the typical body plan of a mammal skeleton
  • understand the reasons for the skeletal variability between taxa
  • Understanding of the processes that affect the preservation and recovery of human and animal remains from archaeological sites
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Writing of technical animal bone reports
  • Analysis of a faunal assemblages as a source of understanding of past environments, subsistence practices, craft, and trade
  • knowledge of how molecular studies can be used to gain information on human and animal migrations, diet, and population history
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Clear and concise written presentation of a topic
  • Analysis of quantitative data
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Identification of the different elements of the human and animal skeletons


The module aims to give the student an understanding of the mammalian skeleton and its interpretation in archaeological studies. The first half of the module will deal with the identification and observation of the various bones in human and animal skeletons; the second half will deal with topics such as sex, age, and palaeopathology.

Special Features

Practical classes will give students the opportunity to learn essential identification of human and animal bones, ageing and sexing of bone material, and recognition of palaeopathological modifications. These gained skills will be assessed through the Practical Test and the Exam. The Bone Report will assess the understanding of students The exam will also enable students to demonstrate the attainment of the essential knowledge of the methods used in osteoarchaeology as well as of the wider theoretical context of osteological studies.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include • Teaching methods include lectures and practicals • Osteology is a “hands-on” subject; where students play and active role in learning. An important aspect of the module will be studying specimens during practicals and in the bone lab outside of the module meetings. Learning activities include • Lab study • Report writing • Background reading

Independent Study120
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

online resource of 3D-digitised skeletons made available by the Max Planck Institute (Leipzig).

Davis, S.J.M. (1987). The Archaeology of Animals. 

White, T.D. & Folkens, P.A. (2000). Human Osteology. 

Schmid, E (1972). Atlas of Animal Bones. 

Osteological Reference Collection. Archaeology academic unit

O’Connor, T.P. (2000). The Archaeology of Animals Bones. 

Schwartz, J. (1995). Skeleton Keys. 

Reitz, E.J. and Wing, E.S (2008). Zooarchaeology. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Bone tests 10%
Exam  (105 minutes) 50%
Report  (2000 words) 40%


MethodPercentage contribution
Exam  (105 minutes) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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