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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of History, Classics and Archaeology : Archaeology

Undergraduate Course: Scientific Methods in Bio-Archaeology (ARCA10077)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of History, Classics and Archaeology CollegeCollege of Humanities and Social Science
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryAnalytical techniques and scientific methods are increasingly used in the reconstruction of the human past. Molecular and isotopic analyses of human and animal remains are providing startling new insights into human evolution and prehistoric lifeways. In addition to providing a detailed explanation of these methodologies, this course will focus on how these methods have been successfully applied to a multitude of real-world archaeological questions.
Course description Key themes that will be investigated include prehistoric mobility and migration, the origins and development of agriculture, palaeodietary reconstruction, infectious disease, and the fate of the Neanderthals. These major research questions will be examined through a series of case studies and workshops.

The course comprises 11 lectures and 6 workshops focusing on the practical, real-world applications of scientific techniques as a tool for archaeological research. The topics covered include:

Lecture 1: The appliance of science - an introduction to biomolecules
Lecture 2: DNA and archaeology
Lecture 3: Relatedness in past populations
Lecture 4: Infectious diseases and inherited conditions
Lecture 5: DNA and domestication - unnatural selection
Lecture 6: Atoms and isotopes
Lecture 7: Palaeodietary reconstruction
Lecture 8: Sulphur - the next diet fad?
Lecture 9: Migration and mobility
Lecture 10: Radiocarbon dating and reservoir effects
Lecture 11: Lipids - pottery, coprolites and sediments

Workshop 1: Interpreting DNA
Workshop 2: The Romanovs
Workshop 3: Writing a research proposal
Workshop 4: Extracting DNA
Workshop 5: Are we what we eat?
Workshop 6: Mobility in prehistory
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements Pre-requisites: Archaeology 2A and 2B, or Honours entry to degrees in Classics, or equivalent.
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2018/19, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  10
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 22, Summative Assessment Hours 2, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 172 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 60 %, Coursework 40 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Assessment will comprise; (i) coursework (40%), and (ii) a two hour examination (60%).
Visiting Student Variant Assessment (students in Edinburgh for Semester 1 only): (i) coursework (40%), and (ii) a two hour In-house Examination 60%

The coursework comprises the design and planning of a research proposal for a specific assemblage of bioarchaeological materials within a specified budget.
Feedback Students will receive written feedback on their coursework, and will have the opportunity to discuss that feedback further with the Course Organiser during their published office hours or by appointment.
Exam Information
Exam Diet Paper Name Hours & Minutes
Main Exam Diet S2 (April/May)2:00
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. demonstrate through assessment of coursework, participation in workshops and examination detailed knowledge of the molecular and isotopic methods employed in the analysis of bioarchaeological materials;
  2. demonstrate through assessment of coursework, participation in workshops and examination an appreciation of the principal applications of scientific techniques in the reconstruction of the human past from bioarchaeological materials;
  3. demonstrate through assessment of coursework, participation in workshops and examination a critical understanding of the key issues, concerns and debates surrounding the application of scientific methods in bioarchaeology;
  4. demonstrate through assessment of coursework, participation in workshops and examination an ability to critically evaluate published interpretations of data; and
  5. demonstrate through assessment of coursework, participation in workshops and examination an understanding of the structure and key components of research proposals.
Reading List
Brown, T. and Brown, K., 2011. Biomolecular Archaeology: an introduction. Wiley-Blackwell.
Jones, M., 2001. The Molecule Hunt. Allen Lane.
Matisoo-Smith, E. and Horsburgh, A., 2012. DNA for Archaeologists. Left Coast Press.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Upon successful completion of the course students will have aquired and/or be expected to demonstrate the following transferable skills:
(i) an ability to synthesize and critically evaluate data from primary sources;
(ii) participation in group projects, as well as conducting independent study and research;
(iii) communication of ideas and arguments, both orally and in writing; and
(iv) design and preparation of research proposals.

KeywordsScientific Methods
Course organiserDr Catriona Pickard
Tel: (0131 6)50 2372
Course secretaryMr Henry Barnett
Tel: (0131 6)51 7112
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