ARMSTD-Science and the Dead

Module Provider: Archaeology
Number of credits: 20 [10 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Spring term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2019/0

Module Convenor: Dr Gundula M├╝ldner


Type of module:

Summary module description:

Understanding of taphonomy and biomolecular methods which are now being routinely applied in burial archaeology are essential for any archaeologist specialising in the study of human remains. This module was designed for graduate students with an interest in the scientific analysis of human remains to provide them with an understanding of the key biomolecular methods that are currently employed by modern archaeology to reconstruct the living from the dead.


Focussing on principles rather than scientific detail, this module aims to provide an understanding of human taphonomy, to introduce the most widely used methods in the scientific analysis of human remains (isotopes, elemental analysis and DNA) and to convey an understanding of the advantages and drawbacks of each approach to non-scientists. The module also aims to provide an understanding of the principles of statistical analysis of isotope data.

Assessable learning outcomes:

Understanding of human remains in their burial context and of key methods of biomolecular analysis employed in human osteoarchaeology

By completion of this module, the students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate understanding of human taphonomy in different environments.

  • Explain the principles and methodological framework of key approaches to the chemical analysis of human remains for archaeology

  • Demonstrate an awareness of potential problems associated with each method

  • Assess the relevance of the findings with regards to archaeological research questions

  • Evaluate academic papers published in the field

  • Prepare appropriate graphs and conduct basic statistical analyses of isotope data

  • Organise and present information as well as develop an argument orally and in writing

Additional outcomes:

This module aims to improve students' problem-solving and analytical skills by encouraging critical appraisal of methods and current literature. The assessments will enhance research skills in particular by requiring the independent use of online databases to locate recent scientific publications. Students will also improve their numeracy and communication skills through seminar discussions and assessments.

Outline content:

Human taphonomy

Bone Chemistry, Degradation and Preservation

Isotope and Elemental Analysis of Human Remains for Diet and Migration

Analysis of ancient DNA

Current Methodological Debates

Global context:

The module will introduce methods and approaches which are current in human osteoarchaeology around the world. Examples and case-studies will be drawn from multiple continents and cultures.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

A combination of lectures, seminar discussions and student presentations.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 10
Seminars 10
Tutorials 2
Demonstration 2
Practicals classes and workshops 2
Guided independent study:      
    Wider reading (independent) 64
    Wider reading (directed) 20
    Preparation for presentations 10
    Preparation for seminars 20
    Essay preparation 60
Total hours by term 0 200 0
Total hours for module 200

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written assignment including essay 90
Oral assessment and presentation 10

Summative assessment- Examinations:

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:

Essay (c. 2,500 words), 50%

Report (c. 2000 words), 40%

Presentation, 10%

Submission of coursework and presentations on dates set by the Department

Formative assessment methods:

Weekly discussions of set reading will improve and test student understanding.

Penalties for late submission:
Penalties for late submission on this module are in accordance with the University policy. Please refer to page 5 of the Postgraduate Guide to Assessment for further information:

Assessment requirements for a pass:

A module average of 50% overall.

Reassessment arrangements:

Resubmission on dates set by the Department.

Additional Costs (specified where applicable):

Last updated: 10 April 2019


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