Human skeletal remains are the most direct evidence of past lifeways and their scientific investigation gives unique insights into human history. Bioarchaeology (the study of archaeological human remains) is an exciting field that draws on a variety of techniques, ranging from visual examination of the whole skeleton to the biomolecular analysis of small bone samples. Demographic shifts, environmental changes, migrations, the spread of diseases and the impact of violence and conflict all leave traces on the skeleton.
This MSc provides the skills required to understand skeletal biographies and interpret them in their cultural context at the individual and the population level. Combining theoretical learning with hands-on practice, we will provide you with the theoretical knowledge and practical skills essential to your handling and analysis of specimens recovered from archaeological sites.
Throughout the programme, you’ll take part in lectures, seminars and practical work with archaeological skeletal assemblages and reference collections. Drawing on Edinburgh’s long history in the study of the human body, you will also have the opportunity to visit Surgeons’ Hall Museum and anatomy department, which provide unique collections of pathological and anatomical study specimens.
You will complete six compulsory courses and select one further option. You will be assessed through reports, lab exams, oral and poster presentations, and essays. You will also submit a dissertation on a research topic of your choosing. Past dissertations have ranged from experimental projects on violence in prehistory to dietary studies of Chalcolithic Turkey and considerations of disease and impairment in post-medieval England.
The compulsory courses on this programme are:
Human Musculo-Skeletal Anatomy
Analytical Methods in Human Osteology
Quantitative Methods and Reasoning in Archaeology
Bioarchaeological Analysis and Interpretation
Research Sources and Strategies in Bioarchaeology
Option courses change from year to year and those available when you start your studies may be different from those shown in the list:
Exploring the past with data science
On successful completion of the programme, you will be able to:
identify and interpret human skeletal remains from archaeological sites
develop hypothesis testing skills
carry out relevant scientific analyses, often in cooperation with experts in other disciplines
engage in theoretical and methodological discussions relevant to osteoarchaeology
design research strategies based on transferable skills providing a basis for advanced studies (PhD and beyond)
Examples of career paths available to archaeology graduates (although some may require additional training) include: higher education, heritage management and agencies, commercial archaeology, environmental assessment, teaching, tourism industry, broadcasting and the police.
An archaeology degree does not, of course, restrict you to a career in archaeology. The programme also equips you for advanced study.