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Osteoarchaeology (BA3)


Admission requirements

Bioarchaeology or a 2nd or 3rd-year natural sciences-based course obtained.


Human osteoarchaeology is the study of human skeletal remains found in an archaeological context. Analysis of the human skeleton is absolutely integral to understanding the past, as it provides primary evidence of the people enacting and experiencing the world. The focus of this course is the identification of human skeletal and dental remains, and then to apply this knowledge to learn more about individuals and populations.

In block 1 you will learn basic skeletal and dental anatomy, how to identify all the bones and teeth in the human skeleton, and major landmarks of each skeletal element.
By the end of block 1 you will be able to recognise and identify all the bones and teeth in the human body, and you will be able to analyse fragmentary and commingled skeletal material, as is common in many archaeological settings.

In block 2 learning will be built upon the identification and analysis skills learned in the first block. You will learn methods associated with estimating sex, age-at-death, stature, and ancestry from human skeletal material. There will also be a brief introduction to palaeopathology, palaeodiet, and palaeoactivity analyses.

In block 1 each meeting will consist of a lecture and demonstration focusing on the skeletal elements you are expected to learn for the week. You are expected to practice the identification of skeletal elements and landmarks during open laboratory time on Wednesdays.
In block 2 there will be lectures paired with mandatory laboratory assignments on Wednesdays, in order to teach you how to properly use and apply key methods. As a strongly practical-based subject, success requires independent and pro-active learning.

Course objectives

  • Ability to recognise and identify human bones and teeth;

  • Ability to estimate sex, age-at-death, and stature;

  • Become familiar with methods for identifying ancestry, pathology, and diet;

  • Become familiar with methods for sorting and analysing commingled, burned and scavenged remains;

  • Ability to explain the relevance/contribution of osteoarchaeology to archaeology.


Course schedule details can be found in the BA3 time schedule.

In addition to the lectures, two-hour lab attendance is required on Wednesdays.

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures;

  • Practicals.

Course load

The course load will be distributed as follows:

  • 13x3 hours of lectures (3 ec);

  • 10x3 hours of practical sessions (1.5 ec);

  • Exercise/ assignments (3 ec);

  • 350 pages of literature (2.5 ec).

Assessment method

Block 1:

  • Bone Bell Ringer Test (35%);

  • Essay (25%).

Block 2:

  • Final exam (40%)

A retake is only possible for the essay and the final exam, and only if all other requirements have been met. Compensation is possible according to the OER. The Bone Bell Ringer test needs to be passed with > 5.5 in order to be allowed to continue with the course.

The date for the final exam can be found in the BA3 examination schedule. For other deadlines, please see the course syllabus on BlackBoard.

Reading list

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


Registration via uSis is mandatory.

  • The Administration Office will register all BA1 students for their tutorials (not lectures; register via uSis!).

  • BA2, BA3, MA/MSc and RMA/RMSc students are required to register for all lectures and tutorials well in time.

  • The Administration Office registers all students for their exams, students are not required to do this in uSis.


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


Compulsory attendance (both the lecture and the scheduled practicals).