The Anthropology of Human Remains

Please note: this is archived course information from 2020 for ANTHRO 367.


Human remains reflect the lives of the dead as well as the lives of those who buried them. In this course you will be introduced to the various ways in which we study the dead. The course will cover three areas: the interpretation of mortuary practices, the interpretation of past lives from human remains and the practice of burial archaeology in the southern hemisphere.

The course is designed for students intending to do further study in archaeology or biological anthropology. It focuses upon the reality of archaeological practices including an extensive introduction to human osteology through lab exercises explicitly associated with the six issues addressed routinely to bioarchaeologists: is it bone?, is it human?, is it a child or adult?, is it male or female?, is it normal?, what is the burial context? In addition we will discuss archaeological practice, particularly in relation to this part of the world.

In lectures we will use examples from across the world which demonstrate how human remains are analysed and interpreted. We will consider how different research questions and theoretical perspectives lead to different outcomes. In your coursework you will have the opportunity to develop an essay question and research it. 

Lectures will be the primary learning venue for this course. Attendance at lectures is not required but is strongly advised, as material from lectures may not be reproduced elsewhere and may be included in course examinations. You are required to enrol in a lab stream – these labs are held weekly and will involve you undertaking a set of practical tasks related to burial archaeology and human remains. Lab sections are designed to give you the practical skills to accompany your lectures.

Studying human remains is about learning to observe and analyse, including interpreting what others have written, as well as learning to make your own observations. Toward that end, you will have opportunities to learn through various means. Labs also provide opportunities to clarify and discuss topics covered in lecture that you find interesting or confusing. Lab is intended to be dynamic, useful and often fun. There will be ten one hour lab sessions. Your observations will be recorded within a lab book which includes specific tasks undertaken in labs.

Even if you never end up working with human remains, the course is designed to develop your analytical and practical skills that can be applied in a range of employment: analytical skills (particularly identifying research questions, evaluating sources, applying theoretical perspectives), written and oral communication skills, understanding of ethics, legislation and practice (including appreciation of legislation, ethics, and the excavation and recording of burials and human remains) and how to apply first principles in a field situation.

This course is offered concurrently at  Stage 2 (ANTHRO 235) and Stage 3 levels (ANTHRO 367) and is taught  every second year. 

View the course syllabus.

Availability 2020

Semester 1


Lecturer(s) Associate Professor Judith Littleton


ANTHRO 367: 15 points


ANTHRO 200 or 201 with a minimum B- grade