Human Osteology

Please note: this is archived course information from 2020 for ANTHRO 748.


The emphasis in this course is on the development of practical skills in the analysis of skeletonised human remains as well as an underlying understanding of the principles involved and the ability to evaluate work in this area whether bioarchaeology, forensic anthropology or evolutionary anthropology.

The aim is to introduce you to the principles of osteological analysis and to give you sufficient knowledge and experience to recognise when it is possible to identify remains, when it is not possible and when further work needs to be done.  

There is a focus upon working in the southern hemisphere (dealing with high degrees of biological variability, the appropriate use of standards and consideration of ethics). Assessment is designed so that you learn how to prepare the sorts of writing and presentation needed within a professional sphere. Classes include a weekly one to one-and-a-half hour seminar, where we explore research in the field and develop an understanding of best practice, and a weekly one-to two-hour practical.

Course aims:

  • To have students understand the fundamental nature of bone as a living tissue
  • To introduce students to the identification of human bone and its recording particularly considering the different circumstances (archaeological and forensic) in which it may be found
  • To introduce students to the skills involved in identification of human remains including ageing, sexing, population affinity, trauma and so on
  • To have students understand the assumptions and principles that underlie the processes of human identification
  • To gain an appreciation of the particular nature of human identification and its ethical considerations within the context of the southern hemisphere
  • To have students develop a further understanding of the theoretical applications of osteological analysis to archaeological and forensic issues

Learning outcomes:

  • To understand the nature of bone, cartilage, enamel and joints
  • To be able to identify skeletal elements to side
  • To be able to distinguish human from relatively complete animal bones
  • To be able to apply the standard methods of ageing, sexing and identification to relatively complete remains
  • To be able to hypothesise and distinguish indicators of taphonomic processes and some basic pathological processes
  • To be able to describe human remains accurately and precisely for archaeological or forensic applications
  • To be able to present that work in a professional manner in oral and written form
  • To be able to evaluate methods of analysis in a thorough and systematic manner
  • To be able to evaluate published work in the field with a particular focus upon theory, underlying assumptions and interpretation

Employability skills:

Analysis: Through research with quick identification of relevant information and sources, focusing on evaluation of established techniques, identification of assumptions and providing recommendations for current and future work. Ability to provide thoughtful professional advice on methods and techniques
Workplace writing skills: Writing of a technical report, writing of a systematic review, oral presentation of results
Cultural skills: Understanding of ethical issues involved in working with human remains with people from diverse cultures, understanding of professional ethical standards, ability to identify best practice standards, understanding of the relevant legislation
Professional skills: Ability to organise work, observe fully and accurately, record systematically and understand and identify the limits of interpretation. Ability to approach work with a critical and enquiring mind
Specialist skills:  As above under learning outcomes

Availability 2020

Semester 2


Coordinator(s) Associate Professor Judith Littleton

Recommended Reading

For those without prior experience of anatomy: White, T. The Human Bone Manual. Boston: Elsevier and Academic Press (2005)


ANTHRO 748: 15 points