nl en

Research methods in mortuary archaeology


Compulsory attendance


Admission requirements



The focus of this course is threefold. Firstly, the course emphasises the importance of understanding the suite of taphonomic processes that have an impact on the structure of a grave from the moment of deposition until the time of excavation.
Secondly, the effect of preservation on the recovery and analysis of human remains are covered. Lastly, the importance of cultural understandings of funerary practices needed to situate osteological data within a broader archaeological and historical context is explored.

The course is open to RMSc-Bioarchaeology students. Although participating in the same lectures, their assignments will have a different focus involving enhanced depth and critical review with additional minimum requirements for the number of referenced sources. Written (i.e. essays) and oral (i.e. presentations) assignments will involve researching a topic to achieve comprehension of its significance to the field as a whole, utilising critical thinking skills and formulating directions for innovative new research.

Course objectives

  • Understanding of general taphonomic processes within the context of a grave;

  • Understanding of preservation factors affecting human tissues;

  • Ability to apply these principles to case studies from recent excavations;

  • Understanding of how to reconstruct burial practices;

  • Knowledge of the possibilities and limitations of the interpretation of mortuary practices of past societies.

In addition to the above, RMSc-students develop:

  • Ability to critically review the significance of current research within the field as a whole;

  • Ability to report such reviews in written and oral formats;

  • Ability to formulate new and innovative directions of research.

Ects distribution

The course load will be distributed as follows:

  • 7×2 hours of lecture (1 ects);

  • 10 hours of laboratory work (0,5 ects);

  • 10 hours of museum excursions (0,5 ects);

  • 210 pages of literature (1,5 ects);

  • Written assignments, 3,000 words (1,5 ects).


Course schedule details can be found in the MA time schedule.

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture;

  • Laboratory exercises;

  • Museum visits.

Assessment method

  • Laboratory assignments;

  • Participation;

  • Research proposal.

Assessment deadline

All assessment deadlines (exams, retakes, paper deadlines etc.) can be found in the examination schedule.

Reading list

  • H. Duday & M. Guillon, “Understanding the Circumstances of Decomposition when the Body is Skeletonized” (2006) in: Forensic Anthropology and Medicine: Complementary Sciences from the Recovery to the Cause of Death, A. Schmitt, E. Cunha & J. Pinheiro (eds). Totowa, NJ: Humana Press;

  • M.L. Goff, Early Post-Mortem Changes and Stages of Decomposition in Exposed Cadavers (2009). Exp Appl Acarol 49:21-36;

  • J. Pinheiro, “Decay Process of a Cadaver” (2006) in: Forensic Anthropology and Medicine: Complementary Sciences from the Recovery to the Cause of Death, A. Schmitt, E. Cunha & J. Pinheiro (eds). Totowa, NJ: Humana Press;

  • Articles and chapters posted on Blackboard by the instructor.


Register for this course via uSis.
Instructions for registration can be found in the uSis manual.

Contact information

For more information about this course, please contact dr. M.L.P. Hoogland.