nl en

Research methods in mortuary archaeology


Admission requirements

Bachelor's degree in Archaeology, or equivalent level.


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) 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.


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

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture;

  • Laboratory exercises.

Course load

The course load will be distributed as follows:

  • 7×2 hours of lecture (1 ec);

  • 10 hours of laboratory assignments and preparation presentation (0,5 ec);

  • 210 pages of literature (1,5 ec);

  • Weekly writing assignments of each max 250 words) (1 ec);

  • Final essay (1,800 words) (1 ec).

Assessment method

  • Class participation (10%);

  • Five weekly assignments (20%);

  • Laboratory assignments (20%);

  • Presentation (20%);

  • Final essay (30%).

Compensation between the individual grades is allowed, except for the essay that should be a pass (>5.5).
A retake is only possible for the final essay, and only if all requirements have been met.

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

Reading list

Articles and chapters posted on BlackBoard/sent by e-mail by the instructor.


Registration for the course or the exam is not required.


For more information about this course, please contact dr. R. Schats.


Compulsory attendance.