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Durham University

Postgraduate Module Handbook 2021/2022

Archive Module Description

This page is for the academic year 2021-22. The current handbook year is 2022-23

Department: Archaeology

ARCH51630: Osteoprofiling

Type Tied Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2021/22
Tied to F4KD09 Human Bioarchaeology and Palaeopathology
Tied to F4KB09 Bioarchaeology


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To equip students with knowledge of the normal anatomy and physiology of the skeleton so as to be able to recognise abnormal anatomy and to be familiar with basic methods of analysis relevant for human and osteology. Students will gain extensive practical experience in the application of methods relevant to constructing an osteological profile and an understanding of the parameters of these modules.


  • The module will cover basic anatomy and physiology of the human skeleton, methods of identifying fragmentary material (including cremated human remains) and estimating minimum numbers of individuals, age and sex estimation methods for adult and non-adult skeletal material, metrical and non-metrical analysis of human remains and osteological methods. The emphasis will be on critical assessment of methods used and data generated within the context of current issues in the study of human remains from archaeological sites. The development of the discipline, including the theoretical underpinnings, will be explored through the lens of decolonisation.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Knowledge of normal skeletal anatomy, as well as methods of age and sex estimation, stature estimation, palaeodemography, and recording of non-metric traits.
  • Knowledge of processes affecting skeletal survival in the burial environment.
  • A critical understanding of the development of the discipline and the influence of colonialism for formulating current practice.
  • Knowledge of the impact of society and social identity on skeletal structures.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Ability to record identify fragmentary human remains and differentiate them from animal bone.
  • Ability to lay out a skeleton (even in fragmentary condition) in anatomical position and inventory it.
  • Ability to accurately apply a range of techniques for determining an osteological profile, including from isolated and fragmented bones.
  • Ability to describe results in a clear, coherant and professional manner.
  • Ability to demonstrate safe and respectful working practices in the laboratory.
Key Skills:
  • Recording, quantitative analysis, critical analysis and interpretation of promary and secondary data.
  • Preparation and effective communication of research methods, data, results, interpretations and arguments.
  • An ability to produce work to prescribed guidelines and deadlines.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Through lecture and laboratory sessions, to allow students to explore practical and theoretical concepts and become familiar with the normal morphological appearance of the skeleton and methods used for analysis. Students have access to the human osteology laboratory outside of formal taught hours to develop independent learning skills to reinforce knowledge. Learning is assessed using practical assessments to test skills in identifying and recording human bone and with an essay to ensure a critical understanding of key concepts.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 9 Weekly 2 hours 18
Practicals 9 Weekly 2.5 hours 22.5
Preparation and Reading 259.5
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 2,500 words 100%
Component: fragment identification tests Component Weighting: 10%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
fragment identification test 1 20 min 50%
fragment identification test 2 20 min 50%
Component: Practical Test Component Weighting: 50%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Practical Test 1 hour 100%

Formative Assessment:

The students undertake regular formative fragment tests (peer-marked) to help prepare them for the summative fragment tests. The students undertake a formative practical test in advance of the summative practice test to help them prepare. The students are invited to submit a formative essay plan prior to submission of the summative essay.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University