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

Undergraduate Course: Death, Decay and Reconstruction: Discovering past lifeways through Archaeological Human Remains (ARCA10076)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of History, Classics and Archaeology CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe course focuses on understanding the past through archaeological human remains. As the most direct evidence of past individuals and populations, the contextual, biocultural study of human remains combines all aspects of archaeological study, including scientific, theoretical, ethical and social perspectives. The course encourages an inter-disciplinary approach to the study of the past and addresses important archaeological questions from different periods and geographic areas.
Course description Human remains, including burnt and unburnt skeletal remains as well as bog bodies and mummies, provide the most direct evidence on health, disease, activity, diet, warfare and population relationships in the past. This course aims to introduce the main techniques and principles used in the analysis as well as the contextual interpretation of archaeological human remains. It will apply a thematic approach, illustrated by case studies from diverse chronological periods and geographic locations. What can human remains, their find context and associated materials tells us about childhood in prehistory? About famine and climate? About warfare and punishment? About the life and death of individuals like Ötzi? And how can we integrate this information meaningfully into its broader archaeological context? Based on lectures, seminars, practicals and a museum visit, students will learn how to evaluate and integrate osteoarchaeological, palaeopathological, demographic and contextual burial information resulting from the study of human remains, to reach a fuller understanding of the past and comprehensively answer archaeological and historical questions. Students will also explore ethical issues and the value of archaeological human remains in a museum context as well as the importance of communicating the aims and importance of osteoarchaeological research to the wider public.
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
Pre-requisitesVisiting Students should usually have at least 3 Archaeology courses at grade B or above (or be predicted to obtain this) for entry to this course. We will only consider University/College level courses.

High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. demonstrate, by way of coursework, knowledge of osteoarchaeological methods and interpretation;
  2. demonstrate, by way of completing the reflective critique, awareness and critical understanding of the issues surrounding the curation and exhibition of human remains in a museum environment;
  3. demonstrate, by way of coursework and seminar participation, the ability to critically evaluate, discuss and critique osteoarchaeological data and integrate it into wider archaeological analyses;
  4. demonstrate, by way of coursework and seminar participation, the ability to develop and present knowledge and ideas and present these in a coherent fashion to diverse audiences and in a number of different formats.
Reading List
Brickley, M. and McKinley, J.I. (eds.) 2004. Guidelines to the standards for recording human remains. IFA Paper No. 7. Southhampton/Reading: BABAO and IFA.

Fibiger, L. 2014. Misplaced childhood? Interpersonal violence and children in Neolithic Europe. In C. Knüsel & M. Smith (eds.) The Routledge Handbook of the Bioarchaeology of Human Conflict, 127-145. Abingdon: Routledge.

Gowland, R. & Knusel, C. (eds.) 2006. The Social Archaeology of Funerary Remains. Oxford: Oxbow.

Jenkins, T. 2008. Dead bodies: The changing treatment of human remains in British museum collections and the challenge to the traditional model of the museum. Mortality 13 (2), 105-118.

Larsen, C. S. 1998. Bioarchaeology: Interpreting Behavior from the Human Skeleton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Montgomery, J. and Jay, M. 2013. The contribution of skeletal isotope analysis to understanding the Bronze Age in Europe. In A. Harding and H. Fokkens (eds), The Handbook of Bronze Age Europe, 179-86. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

O'Sullivan, J. 2001. Ethics and the Archaeology of Human Remains. Journal of Irish Archaeology 10: 121-151.

Roberts, C. 2009. Human Remains in Archaeology. A handbook. York: Council for British Archaeology.

Sofaer, J. 2012. Touching the Body: The Living and the Dead in Osteoarchaeology and the Performance Art of Marina Abramovi¿. Norwegian Archaeological Review 45 (2): 135-150.

Williams, E. (ed.) 2001. Human Remains. Conservation, Retrieval and

Wood, J., Milner, G.R., Harpending, H.C. & Weiss, K.M. 1992. The Osteological Paradox. Problems of Inferring Prehistoric Health from Skeletal Samples. Current Anthropology 33 (4): 343-370.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills On successful completetion of the course, students should be able to:
- gather and critically assess relevant information
- present their ideas and analyses in a coherent fashion to diverse audiences and in a number of different formats.
KeywordsDeath Decay
Course organiserDr Jonny Geber
Tel: (0131 6)50 3534
Course secretaryMiss Sara Dennison
Tel: (0131 6)50 2501
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