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Durham University


F4KD09 Human Bioarchaeology and Palaeopathology 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.

Degree MSc
Mode of study Full Time
Duration 1 year (full-time)
Location Durham City
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Course Summary


This lecture, seminar and laboratory-based MSc equips you with the theoretical and practical skills and knowledge to study and interpret data collected from human remains. The emphasis is on osteoprofiling, as well as health and disease using a multidisciplinary approach, linking biological evidence with cultural data (the biocultural approach). This is a very hands-on, practical course, and students will gain experience with human skeletal remains from a variety of time periods.

This course is unique in the world and it takes a holistic view of the body and society and will prepare you for undertaking significant research projects in this subject, or working in contract/commercial archaeology, and many other fields. It is aimed at graduates mainly in archaeology and anthropology with or without past experience or knowledge in this field, and for those who aspire to continue on to PhD or work in contract archaeology. However, past students have come from a variety of subject backgrounds, and destination data illustrates a wide range of employers take these students.

Course structure

Term 1

Term 2

Term 3




Palaeopathology: Theory and Method




Research and Study Skills in Archaeological Science

Choice of: 

Themes in Palaeopathology


Isotope and Biomolecular Archaeology


Research Topic in Archaeology


To view our short film on Archaeology at Durham click here

Course Learning and Teaching

The course is delivered through an exciting and challenging mixture of lectures, seminars and hands-on practical classes. Lectures provide key information on a particular area and identify the main areas for discussion and debate in bioarchaeology. Seminars then provide opportunities for smaller groups to discuss and debate issues or areas, based on the knowledge that you have gained through your lectures and through independent study outside the programme’s formal contact hours. Finally, practical laboratory classes allow you to gain direct practical skills in recording and interpretation of data from skeletal remains. We have a dedicated human osteology laboratory at Durham and curate large collections of human skeletal remains, including many pathological examples. These are an important component of the course, facilitating independent and group work, as well as hands-on experience under laboratory conditions, essential for a potential future working environment. You will have access to the human bone laboratory for independent study outside of formal teaching hours and we encourage you to use these resources as much as possible.

The balance of these types of activities changes throughout the course, as you develop your knowledge and ability as independent learners. You will have the opportunity to engage in research, professional practice, and to develop and demonstrate research skills in subject areas that interest you. In addition to the taught components, a series of informal ‘open lab’ sessions form part of the learning experience. We also offer guest lecturers and seminars. You will be part of a vibrant bioarchaeology community here at Durham!

Term 1

You will take Osteoprofiling, taught through lectures and practical laboratory sessions. In this module you will learn all aspects of skeletal analysis, including bone fragment identification, techniques of sex determination, estimating age-at-death (children and adults) and metrical and non-metrical assessment. As well as experience with different skeletons each week, you will be given a skeleton to work on and to present a report on at the end of term. This term you will also take Research and Study Skills in Archaeological Science, which includes lectures, workshops and practical sessions on both generic and specific archaeological science research skills. External speakers specialising in specific subject areas from “industry” and academia are invited to deliver lectures on issues related to both research and the broader profession. 

Term 2

The focus this term is on developing skills for palaeopathological analysis, as well as gaining an understanding of multidisciplinary approaches to interpretation.  In Palaeopathology: Theory and Method you will learn how to record and diagnose different types of diseases in human skeletal remains, delivered via lectures and hands-on practical experiences using our extensive pathological collections.

You have a choice of:

Themes in Palaeopathology in which you will develop your critical approach to the evaluation of multiple forms of evidence, to help contextualise and interpret the human skeletal evidence for the reconstruction of specific themes (e.g. migration, or care and treatment).


Isotope and Biomolecular Archaeology in which you will develop skills and understanding in isotope and DNA analysis. These techniques are of increasing importance in the study of human skeletal remains.


Research Topic in Archaeology, in which you can undertake a more in-depth study of a particular period or place of interest. In the Department of Archaeology we have expertise in a wide range of time periods and over a large geographical range. 

Term 3

The research skills acquired earlier in the course will be developed further through the dissertation research project. Under the supervision of a member of academic staff you will undertake a detailed study of a particular area of interest, resulting in a significant piece of independent research. The dissertation is regarded as preparation for further professional or academic work.

Throughout the course, you will have access to an “academic adviser”, who will provide you with academic support and guidance. All members of teaching staff have weekly office hours when they are available to meet 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 also has an exciting programme of weekly one-hour research seminars which you are strongly encouraged to attend.

Admissions Process

Subject requirements, level and grade

A minimum of an upper second-class (2:1) degree or equivalent; GPA of 3.3 or above.

Reference Requirements

One satisfactory academic reference is required. There is no specific deadline for applications. Applications for any given academic year must be received before the start of that academic year (i.e. applications for the 2021/22 academic year must be received before October 2021).

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

The tuition fees shown are for one complete academic year of full time 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

Career Opportunities

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 Visits


Department Information

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.