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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 Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
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:

The appliance of science - an introduction to biomolecules; DNA and archaeology; Relatedness in past populations; Infectious diseases and inherited conditions; Domestication - unnatural selection; Atoms and isotopes; Radiocarbon dating and reservoir effects; Palaeodietary reconstruction; Migration and mobility; Lipid residues in pottery and coprolites
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Students MUST NOT also be taking Biomolecular Archaeology: the appliance of science (PGHC11428)
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 2023/24, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  0
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) Coursework: design and planning of a research proposal for a specific assemblage of bioarchaeological materials within a specified budget (40%)
Exam: 2 hour paper (60%)
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 knowledge of the biomolecular methods employed in the analysis of bioarchaeological materials
  2. demonstrate knowledge of the principal applications of scientific techniques in the reconstruction of the human past
  3. demonstrate critical understanding of the key issues, concerns and debates surrounding the application of scientific methods in bioarchaeology
  4. demonstrate an ability to critically evaluate published interpretations of data
  5. design a research proposal
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 Sophie Newman
Tel: (0131 6)50 4620
Course secretaryMiss Katherine Perry
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