Universiteit Leiden

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Human Osteology and Funeral Archaeology


The Faculty of Archaeology at Leiden University offers an education program in Human Osteoarchaeology. We offer a third-year Bachelor course in Human Osteoarchaeology and an extensive one-year program in the Master phase, resulting in a Master of Science degree after completion.

The Master of Science specialization in Human Osteoarchaeology and Mortuary Archaeology provides students with comprehensive knowledge about the methods and theories used to study human bones and teeth from archaeological contexts. Combined with a skilled macroscopic approach, medical knowledge, and scientific techniques drawn from histology, biochemistry, and mechanical engineering, a skeleton can reveal a tremendous amount of information about a person’s life. For example, students will learn to what extent it is possible to reliably determine from a skeleton its age-at-death, sex, stature and body mass, patterns and adequacy of growth, diseases and abnormalities, dietary patterns including breastfeeding and weaning, mobility and migration, activity patterns, and biological/genetic relatedness to other individuals and populations. Such information can then be gathered for a population and compared to other populations to explore similarities and differences in various temporal periods and geographic regions.    

Students learn about sub-fields within the field of Human Osteoarchaeology including forensic anthropology/archaeology, growth and development, paleodemography, taphonomy, bone biomechanics, bone and tooth microstructure, skeletal and dental metric and non-metric traits, stable isotope and trace element analyses, and ancient DNA and biomolecular techniques. Much emphasis is put on the sub-field of paleopathology, the diagnosis of diseases and abnormalities from the bones and teeth, in both classroom and hands-on laboratory settings. The ultimate goal of human osteoarchaeological research is to improve our knowledge about the lifeways of past peoples in order to understand who we are as a species, and how we got to be this way.

MSc students design their thesis research in collaboration with staff members to collect new data on a question of relevance for the field. Skeletal collections housed at the Faculty can be used, as can other sites/collections if permission and access can be granted in a timely fashion.

When possible the Human Osteoarchaeology Laboratory will organize its own excavation.

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