F4KB09 Bioarchaeology MSc Postgraduate Taught 2021
Please note: 2021-22 courses may be affected by Covid-19 and are therefore subject to change due to the ongoing impact of Covid-19. Applicants will be informed of any changes which we are required to make to course entries as a result of Covid-19.
Bioarchaeology is a branch of archaeology that focuses on the study of biological materials found in archaeological contexts to provide information about the life and environment of humans in the past. It is a fast-paced and continually evolving field, with new breakthroughs and discoveries emerging almost every month. Studying the subject at Durham University opens the door to the latest developments in archaeological science, including human bioarchaeology and palaeopathology, stable isotope mass spectrometry, ancient DNA, and environmental archaeology.
The Bioarchaeology Research Group at Durham works in cutting-edge laboratories, specialising and teaching in the areas of human health and well-being, diet and lifeways, human and animal identities, dispersals and mobility, the reconstruction of palaeoenvironments, and human-animal-environment relations. Many of the assemblages our students work with for their research derive from staff research projects, or the excavations of our in-house commercial unit, Archaeological Services.
Durham University’s unique MSc Bioarchaeology is aimed at inquisitive graduates from archaeology or science backgrounds, and those with professional experience in commercial archaeology or museums, who are interested in learning how biosciences can be applied to field research or museum collections. It provides high quality training in analytical, research, and communication skills, which prepares students for progression to doctoral research in bioarchaeology.
The MSc Bioarchaeology comprises five modules totalling 180 credits, one of which is a compulsory research skills module (30 credits), and one of which is a supervised research dissertation (60 credits). The remaining three modules (each 30 credits) differ according to the pathway selected through the degree.
In 2020-21, there are four possible pathways through the MSc, which allow students to develop a bespoke programme, tailored to their interests and goals:
- A general Bioarchaeology degree, which does not place an emphasis on one particular specialism, and provides a broad overview of bioarchaeology.
- The Human Bioarchaeology and Palaeopathology stream, which focusses on the study of human skeletal remains.
- The Biomolecular Archaeology stream, which focusses on the study of stable isotopes and DNA extracted from biological materials.
- The Environmental Archaeology stream, which focusses on the study of animal bones, plant remains, and soils from archaeological contexts.
Core modules (all streams):
- Research and Study Skills in Archaeological Science (30 credits, Term 1): The foundational skills module for the degree, which provides students with an advanced understanding of qualitative and quantitative research methods, research design, and presentation and communication skills required for post-graduate level study and beyond.
- Dissertation (60 credits, Term 3): The capstone of the degree, this 15,000-word thesis provides experience of sustained, rigorous, independent research on a bioarchaeology topic selected by the student, guided and supervised by a member of staff who is an expert in the chosen field. Students who elect to declare a specialist stream must write a dissertation in their chosen subject.
List A modules (selection determines stream):
Students must take one of the following modules, as determined by the chosen degree pathway:
- Themes in Palaeopathology (30 credits, Term 2): A core module for the Human Bioarchaeology and Palaeopathology stream. This module provides students with knowledge about how to conduct palaeopathological research using a biocultural approach, by considering specific themes and the evidence used to investigate them.
- Topics in Archaeological Science (30 credits, Term 2): A core module for the general Bioarchaeology degree, and for the Biomolecular Archaeology and Environmental Archaeology streams. This module explores key topics, research themes, and scientific methods in bioarchaeology, and critically evaluates their potential and limitations.
List B modules (selection determines stream):
Students who elect to take the general Bioarchaeology degree may select any of the following modules. Students who choose to follow one of the specialist streams are expected to select the core options for that stream, and from among the optional options for that stream, as indicated below.
- Research Topics in Archaeology: Forensic Archaeology and Anthropology (30 credits, Term 1): A core module for the Human Bioarchaeology and Palaeopathology stream. This module provides students with knowledge of the latest scientific techniques for locating, recovering, and analysing human skeletal remains.
- Research Topics in Archaeology: Forensic and Archaeological Genetics (30 credits, Term 1): A core module for the Biomolecular Archaeology stream. This module introduces students to the principles of genetic human identification, and the main applications, potential, and limitations of ancient DNA in archaeology.
- Research Topics in Archaeology: Current Geoarchaeology – Reconstructing Archaeological Sites (30 credits, Term 1): A core module for the Environmental Archaeology stream. This module introduces students to the range of geoarchaeological approaches currently being used to research daily life, living conditions, the use of space, and human-animal relations on archaeological sites.
- Practical Guided Study (30 credits, Term 2): An optional module for all streams, but most appropriate for the specialist streams. This module involves a practical-based research project on a topic selected by the student, with training and supervision provided by a member of staff who is an expert in the chosen field. It results in a specialist report of 4000 words, and must be in the chosen subject of the selected stream.
- Research Topics in Archaeology: Migration and Movement of People in Medieval and Post-Medieval Britain (30 credits, Term 2): An optional module for the Biomolecular Archaeology stream. This module explores the isotopic evidence and the ancient and modern genetic evidence for the movement and migration of people in the past.
- Research Topics in Archaeology: Isotope Magic! Exploring the Use and Abuse of Archaeological Isotope Data in the Media (30 credits, Term 2): An optional module for the Biomolecular Archaeology stream. This module compares published studies of isotopic data applied to archaeology, and the resulting media stories, to explore how such data is exploited, presented, and used.
- Research Topics in Archaeology: Vikings, Fire and Ice – Environmental Archaeology of the North Atlantic Islands (30 credits, Term 2): An optional module for the Environmental Archaeology stream. This module examines the nature of human-environment interactions across a variety of island systems in the North Atlantic, and addresses themes of colonisation and human impact, adaptation to marginal environments, and economic continuity and change.
- Themes in Palaeopathology (30 credits, Term 2): This option cannot be selected again if it was selected as a List A module, but it is an optional module for the general Bioarchaeology degree. This module provides students with knowledge about how to conduct palaeopathological research using a biocultural approach, by considering specific themes and the evidence used to investigate them.
- Topics in Archaeological Science (30 credits, Term 2): This option cannot be selected again if it was selected as a List A module, but it is an optional module for the Human Bioarchaeology and Palaeopathology stream. This module explores key topics, research themes, and scientific methods in bioarchaeology, and critically evaluates their potential and limitations.
Part-time students typically take 90 credits each year over two years. They are required to take Research and Study Skills in Archaeological Science in Year 1, and the Dissertation in Year 2.
Course Learning and Teaching
The course is delivered through an exciting and challenging mixture of lectures, seminars, tutorials, workshops, practical classes, and a supervised dissertation. Lectures provide students with key information on a particular topic in bioarchaeology, and identify the main areas for discussion and debate. Seminars and tutorials provide opportunities for smaller groups of students to discuss and debate particular issues, based on the knowledge gained through lectures and independent study outside the programme’s formal contact hours. Practical classes and workshops allow students to gain direct experience of and acquire essential practical skills in the recording, analysis, and interpretation of bioarchaeological data, with guidance from experienced, world-leading scientists. Finally, through supervised projects and dissertations, students have the opportunity to put their knowledge and skills into practice, and to design and execute a substantial piece of independent, original research.
Throughout the degree emphasis is placed on working independently outside the formal contact hours, reading widely, exploring and synthesising large datasets, and to developing critical and analytical skills to an advanced level. The degree assessed through a variety of essays, reports, and skills-based exercises, culminating in the written dissertation based on original research.
Throughout the course students also have access to an academic advisor, usually the leader of their selected degree pathway, who provides them with academic support and guidance. All members of teaching staff have weekly office hours when they are available to meet with students on a ‘drop-in’ basis, but the Department’s teaching staff are renowned for being friendly, approachable, and helpful should you have queries at any time. The department and its Bioarchaeology Research Group are a vibrant research community, offering an exciting programme of Departmental, Bioarchaeology, and Postgraduate Research seminars that students are strongly encouraged to attend.
Subject requirements, level and grade
A minimum of an upper second-class (2:1) degree (GPA 3.3.) or equivalent in Archaeology, Anthropology, Biology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Environmental Science, Geography, or related disciplines. Relevant working experience will also be considered.
One satisfactory references is required.
There is no specific deadline for applications, although applications for any given academic year must be received before the start of that academic year (i.e. applications for the 2020/21 academic year must be received before October 2020). Home/EU applicants are strongly recommended to apply by September to allow sufficient time for their applications to be processed before the start of the academic year. Overseas applicants are strongly recommended to apply by July, since they will need their Confirmation of Acceptance to Study (CAS) number to be issued before they can apply for a visa.
Tuition fee deposit
All self-financing overseas students are required to pay a £1000 tuition fee deposit if an offer from the Department of Archaeology is accepted. The tuition fee deposit is paid before the University issues a Confirmation of Acceptance to Study (CAS) number, which is required in order to apply for a visa.
A £500 deposit is also payable by Home/EU applicants if an offer of a place from the Department of Archaeology is accepted.
English Language requirements
Please check requirements for your subject and level of study.
How to apply
Fees and Funding
Full Time Fees
|EU Student||£22,250.00 per year|
|Home Student||£10,300.00 per year|
|Island Student||£10,300.00 per year|
|International non-EU Student||£22,250.00 per year|
Part Time Fees
|EU Student||£12,300.00 per year|
|Home Student||£5,700.00 per year|
|Island Student||£5,700.00 per year|
|International non-EU Student||£12,300.00 per year|
The tuition fees shown are for one complete academic year of study, are set according to the academic year of entry, and remain the same throughout the duration of the programme for that cohort (unless otherwise stated).
Please also check costs for colleges and accommodation.
Scholarships and funding
Department of Archaeology
Many of our postgraduates move into an academic career, either teaching or by taking up post-doctoral research positions in universities. Others join museums or national and regional heritage organisations. Some work in professional archaeology, in national or local planning departments, while others elect to use their analytical and presentation skills to gain positions in industry, commerce and government.
For further information on career options and employability, including the results of the Destination of Leavers survey, student and employer testimonials and details of work experience and study abroad opportunities, please visit our employability web pages.
Open days and visits
Pre-application open day
Overseas Visit Schedule
Postgraduate VisitsPGVI or
Department of Archaeology
Our internationally respected research expertise will provide you with some of the best resources available for archaeological research. We have one of only three commercial archaeology units in the UK based in a university department here at Durham. You will be able to work with experts in the field and will have access to state-of-the-art laboratories and specialised facilities. Among the best in the world, our MA programmes – including Museum and Artefact Studies, International Cultural Heritage Management, and Conservation of Archaeological and Museum Objects – offer strong professional and vocational training. The MSc in Bioarchaeology and research strands of the MA in Archaeology offer ideal preparation for research careers and specialisation. Our unique MSc in Palaeopathology attracts students globally with academic and professional goals.
|F4K707||Conservation of Archaeological & Museum Objects (Diss) (MA)|
|F4K507||Conservation of Archaeological and Museum Objects (PP) (MA)|
|F4KD09||Human Bioarchaeology and Palaeopathology (MSc)|