The MSc Professional Human Osteoarchaeology course launched at the University of Reading in 2019, developed in response to industry need, and in consultation with professional practitioners. The course provides advanced instruction on the osteological methods, theories and techniques needed to identify and analyse human skeletal remains from archaeological contexts.
Having completed an MA in Museum Studies, where her dissertation focused on the care of human remains in museum collections, Elizabeth Garnett has since been keen to gain a more practical, scientific understanding of skeletal collections. Elizabeth was impressed by a range of factors when exploring the MSc at Reading.
“Being a student on the first year of a new course felt like a slight risk, but after visiting Reading at an Open Day I was really impressed by the Department. The lecturers that teach on the course are at the top of their fields, but also importantly they come from a mixture of academic and professional archaeology backgrounds which allows them to give an excellent overview of osteoarchaeology in both academia and on site excavations.”
Combining master's study with Museum of London role
Working at the Museum of London in the documentation department, Elizabeth works as a member of a team to audit the collection, ensuring that each object has a record that includes key information such as its location, what it looks like and its size and dimensions.
By taking the MSc part-time, Elizabeth has been able to maintain her job at the Museum of London and is able to pursue a specialism that she is passionate about. She credits the support she has from the Department in helping her to balance work with her studies.
“The first year of the course started at a perfect time for me as its location in Reading gave me the opportunity to study part-time and gain a specialism, while still being able to work in the sector that I want to be in.
"Combining work with studies is of course a juggling act, but I have had the support of both the Department and my work. At points where I have struggled the lecturers have always been there to offer support and have been able to make adjustments to ensure I would get coursework completed.”
'Invaluable' learning opportunities
The Department curates over 800 human skeletons providing an excellent resource for teaching human anatomy, analytical methods, adult and juvenile osteology, and palaeopathology in fully-equipped dedicated laboratories. This 'hands-on' experience is something that Elizabeth finds particularly enriching.
“The Department cares for a number of skeletal collections, which I have had the privilege to learn from. Access to such collections are vital to learn human skeletal anatomy and I really feel that a hands-on approach is important to fully understand the variation that skeletal remains can have.
"Having started my studies pre-Covid I was concerned that my second year would have to be taught completely remotely, which would have taken away the opportunity to learn from these collections. Although lectures have understandably gone online, for our lab sessions the lecturers have put everything in place to create safe conditions for me and my coursemates, and still be able to carry out invaluable in-person learning from the collections.”
Entering into her second and final year of the part-time course, Elizabeth is upbeat about her experience and how it is setting her up moving forward.
“By doing the MSc part-time I have been able to keep the job in the sector I want to be in while increasing my knowledge in this specialism. One day I hope to be in a position to be able to use this knowledge.
"I've felt really privileged to be taught not only by academics at the top of their field, but also osteoarchaeologists who can share their knowledge of working on sites."