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MSc Bioarchaeology

  • Delivery:

Please note this course is no longer open for applications.

You may be interested in MSc Biological Anthropology as an alternative.

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MSc Bioarchaeology is one of the first of its kind in the UK to give a unique perspective of investigating and interpreting past societies through the appreciation of their skeletal remains in the context of prevailing socio-cultural, political and economic circumstances.

Our academic team of internationally known experts will offer a programme of study that puts theoretical knowledge into hands-on experiential learning in one of the best-equipped specialist laboratory settings in the country. Intensive training in human functional anatomy and skeletal examination will prepare you for the in-depth study of major aspects of the human life course, from demography to diet, disease, activity, mobility, genetics and mortuary behaviour. You also will be learning about the taphonomy and degradation of human remains as elements of critical appraisal of the source material.

The course provides a dedicated progression of learning from mastery of advanced anatomical and diagnostic skills to the specialist understanding of contextualised human skeletal analysis, complemented by options of archaeozoology, field archaeology and post-excavation experience.

Key information


Bournemouth University, Talbot Campus


1 year full-time, 2 years part-time

Relevant subjects:

Archaeology, history, biological sciences, biological anthropology or anthropology

Entry requirements:

A Bachelors Honours degree, 2:1 or above or equivalent in a relevant discipline and/or relevant comprehensive professional experience. If English is not your first language you'll need IELTS 6.5 (Academic) or above. For more information check out our full entry requirements

Course details

Core units

  • Archaeology of Human Remains: Human remains, preserved as skeletons or otherwise, contain complex messages about the biological individual and social persona they represent, as well as the population or community they belong to. Bioarchaeology endeavours to decipher this information and to interpret it against the backdrop of ambient social, cultural, political and economic circumstances. This unit offers the means to do this by giving you a contextualised understanding of human remains through a combined appreciation of the osteological and archaeological evidence and natural science applications. It puts theoretical knowledge into hands-on experiential learning, allowing for the in-depth study of major aspects of the human life course at individual and population levels. Themes include demography, diet, health and disease, activity, mobility, genetics and mortuary behaviour, complemented by fundamental considerations of taphonomy and degradation.

  • Human Functional Anatomy: Lectures and laboratory practicals, the use of teaching casts and skeletal material, anatomical drawing hand-outs and anatomy reference sources will develop your osteological and general study skills. Accessing the laboratory outside teaching hours gives you the opportunity to self-direct your learning and to study materials in your own time. The aim of this unit is to enable you to gain detailed knowledge of human musculoskeletal anatomy that emphasises a functional approach to identifying and describing human remains, intact and fragmented, recovered from archaeological and forensic contexts. It provides you with proficiency in distinguishing morphological variation and produces a working knowledge of human functional anatomy. This includes considering developmental processes in the human skeleton and understanding biomechanical approaches to human movement.

  • Human Evolution: The global record of human evolution from seven million - twelve thousand years ago. You'll explore the many lines of evidence which contribute to our understanding of this period including archaeological material, fossil anatomy, geochronology, landscape change and ancient DNA. There will be much emphasis the Old World, although the global dispersal of humans will also be covered. You'll develop a critical understanding of theories underpinning the study of human evolution, including evolutionary theory, adaptive ecological strategies and behavioural and biological change. The overarching aim is for you to achieve a deep understanding of the interdisciplinary basis of human evolution, and to develop the skills for navigating expanding and rapidly changing field independently. Unit delivery will be aimed at developing expertise in analytical and critical thinking, and confidence in communication and presentation.

  • Humans, Animals & Diet: Gain a detailed understanding of the history of animal exploitation for food and the inter-relationships between humans and animals in different periods and regions. This unit aims to provide you with knowledge of the major developments in animal exploitation in Britain. A number of central themes in zooarchaeological studies will be explored that can be applied to the study of human diets in European, Asian and New World contexts. You will also be developing critical awareness of the range of cultural attitudes towards animals, in different human societies.

  • Principles & Methods in Human Osteology: An introduction to the basic principles of analysis and interpretation involved in studying skeletal remains of modern humans from archaeological and forensic contexts. This covers the principles and application of biological profiling from the skeleton. Characteristics covered include age-at death, biological sex, stature and metric and non-metric variation. You'll also get a general introduction to skeletal anatomy, the sub-adult skeleton and the dentition and differences between human and non-human animal bone. The unit functions as a self-contained introduction to human osteology at Master's level which can stand alone or form the foundation for more advanced study of human skeletal remains.

  • Research Project: Develop your expertise in research methods, data collection, analysis, interpretation and synthesis and explore in detail core aspects of your subject area, with a view to generating new practical or theoretical insights. You will develop methodological, research, presentation skills and advanced communication skills by producing an extensive dissertation or report on your research.

Option units (choose one):

Please note that option units require minimum numbers in order to run and may change from year to year.

  • Management of Archaeological Material: The aim of this unit is to provide you with the basic principles and understanding behind caring for, treating and curating artefacts from archaeological sites, with particular attention on finds from wet sites like marine or freshwater. Learning and teaching methods include introductory lectures on the problems and issues related to material from archaeological excavations, with a particular focus on waterlogged material. You'll also be given practical experience of stabilisation, excavation, in situ protection and recovering finds.

  • Marine Environment, Heritage & Spatial Planning: Environmental changes in the marine environment have affected the degradation and preservation of underwater heritage. This unit, which may involve field trips, will help you understand the effect of physical, chemical and biological damage to the historic environment and natural hazards to historical and archaeological sites in coastal and shallow marine environments. After completing this unit, you'll be able to manage in situ degradation and the protection of underwater archaeological sites, and appraise mitigation methods for preserving our underwater cultural heritage in situ.

  • Principles and Methods in Zooarchaelogy: This unit will provide you with a solid basis in the principles of identification of mammals, birds and fish and the recording and analytical methods currently employed in the study of animal bones from archaeological sites. It will also provide you with an appreciation of how animal bone studies are integrated with other aspects of archaeology. You will learn mainly through practical workshops, in which you will further your familiarity with zooarchaeological assemblages and techniques, through the handling of material and by practical exercises based on that material. Case studies will explore how investigations of faunal remains can be integrated within the wider discipline of archaeology.

  • Techniques of Archaeological Recovery & Recording: Taking part in field work exercises and practical demonstrations will give you grounding in the principal range of methods involved in archaeological field recording and recovery. You'll learn about the principles of location, survey, excavation and planning and recording of archaeological finds and features. You'll also learn about planning field projects, which covers health and safety and budgeting.

Programme specifications provide definitive records of the University's taught degrees in line with Quality Assurance Agency requirements. Every taught course leading to a BU Award has a programme specification which describes its aims, structure, content and learning outcomes, plus the teaching, learning and assessment methods used.

Download the programme specification for MSc Bioarchaeology.

Whilst every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of the programme specification, the information is liable to change to take advantage of exciting new approaches to teaching and learning as well as developments in industry. If you have been unable to locate the programme specification for the course you are interested in, it will be available as soon as the latest version is ready. Alternatively please contact us for assistance.

Selection criteria

Background and experience

For MSc Bioarchaeology we are looking for applicants who:

  • Are keen on practical learning in a laboratory environment
  • Are keen to develop critical thinking skills and apply these to the study of human populations
  • Can demonstrate an academic interest and ability in relevant sciences by having suitable prior experience and/or qualifications –possibly including archaeology, and/or forensic science
  • Can demonstrate an existing interest in the study of Bioarchaeology by having previous experience of the study of human osteology, anatomy or human evolution.

We are looking for students who are keen to develop their intellectual skills by gaining a sound understanding of a range of areas of study within Bioarchaeology. We particularly encourage applications from people who have an enthusiasm for developing critical thinking and observational skills and who would like to develop better understanding of the human species through the study of human remains. Such skills and knowledge may then form a basis for further postgraduate study. Students on this degree course will typically have backgrounds in Archaeology, Anatomy, or Forensic Science.

Selection methods

Applicants are not normally required to attend an interview but are encouraged to arrange an appointment at one the postgraduate open days in order to make sure the course selected is right for them.

For more information, take a look at our post graduate how to apply pages.

Full entry requirements

The normal requirements for embarking upon this course are:

  • Possession of a 2:1 degree or equivalent in a relevant disicpline and/or relevant comprehensive professional experience.
  • For post-experience and professional qualifications, there may be additional entry requirements set by the association or institute that ultimately administers the qualification in question. The qualification description on the course information pages should tell you what these are but please get in touch with the askBU Enquiry Service if you are in doubt.

If you lack the formal academic qualifications needed to enter a postgraduate or post-experience degree, there are several alternative routes to follow - some based on experience. Contact the askBU Enquiry Service for more information.

International entry requirements

If English is not your first language, you will need to provide evidence that you can understand English to a satisfactory level. English language requirements for this course are normally:

  • IELTS (Academic) 6.5 with minimum 5.5 in each component or equivalent.

View further information about our English language requirements.

A number of pre-sessional English and preparatory programmes are offered through our partner institution, Bournemouth University International College, and will get you ready for study at BU at the appropriate level.

You can also find further details of the international qualifications we accept, and what level of study they apply to, on our postgraduate entry requirements page.


Upon completion of this course, you will possess the practical skills and theoretical knowledge necessary to continue into an academic career or secure employment in a wide range of organisations. The degree's emphasis on core practical skills and the variety of specialised area units you will be able to undertake will give you extra marketability in the professional arena, providing you with a route into a successful and rewarding

As an MSc Bioarchaeology graduate, you will be prepared to undertake roles such as:

  • Archaeologist
  • Heritage manager
  • Historic buildings inspector/conservation officer
  • Academic researcher.

Further study

If you want to continue your studies after achieving your Master's, you can look into our range of doctoral programmes.

No hidden extras

As a student at BU we will provide many things to support you and there will also be additional costs you may encounter whilst studying at BU. The information below will help you understand our provision and what you need to budget for.

Course specific material(s) included in your tuition fee

  • Loan of lab coats and safety glasses

What you can expect from us

All of your teaching and assessments are included in your tuition fees, including, lectures/guest lectures and tutorials, seminars, laboratory sessions and specialist teaching facilities. You will also have access to a wide range of support and services.

  • One set of study-related consumables such as a memory stick/ DVD
  • Materials for laboratory and field-based teaching activity
  • Support for placements (UK or abroad) and fieldwork, and non-financial support whilst on placement
  • A range of student services – advisors, help desks, counsellors, placement support and careers service
  • The Library – access to a wide range of electronic resources (databases, e-journals and e-books), print and multimedia collections, subject librarians and study spaces
  • IT labs (some open 24/7), wireless network, AV equipment to borrow
  • Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) scheme
  • Disability and additional learning support
  • The BU Language Centre to help you develop/improve foreign or English language skills
  • 24 hours a day, 365 days a year security team.

Costs of living and other expenses you need to consider

  • Accommodation and living costs: view our price guide
  • Text books: remember that our award-winning library is stocked with a large range of text books for all courses, as well as online resources such as industry journals, free of charge
  • General stationery and other supplies such as print and presentation materials: the Students’ Union shops stock a wide range of stationery supplies on both campuses
  • Travel to, from and between BU campuses: our bus service operates in the local areas offering a subsidised travel rate; we also have a large number of secure bike storage compounds
  • SportBU membership: check out our student membership packages, sports events, varsity teams, information about our new facilities and more on the SportBU webpages
  • Optional fieldwork travel, outdoor wear and footwear (where applicable)
  • Telephone and travel costs incurred when undertaking interviews for coursework/securing placements.
  • A fee will be payable towards the cost of an Educational Psychology Assessment if this is required in connection with additional learning support. BU pays for approximately two-thirds of the cost of this assessment for UK students. For more details and current pricing please visit the Students section of the website.

Repeat units

If you need to repeat one or more units during the course of your studies (with or without attendance), you may be required to pay additional fees equivalent to one ninth of the tuition fee per 20 credit unit.

Financial help available from BU

We offer a range of scholarships and bursaries to students who are beginning their studies at BU. Our website also provides details on living costs, budgeting and paying your tuition fees.

Meet our staff

Professor Holger Schutkowski, the course leader, is one of the leading world experts in his field. His research bridges the science and humanities aspects of anthropology by investigating the biological outcomes of socio-cultural strategies in human/environment interaction, and combines morphological and instrument-analytical approaches to the study of human skeletal remains, and employs ecological and social theory as an interpretive framework.

Facilities & opportunities

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Archaeology and Anthropology

Read about the work we're doing through our Archaeology and Anthropology research centre and find out more about projects such as The Durotriges Big Dig and the Swash Channel Wreck.
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The Big Dig

Each year our international team of academics, students, volunteers and support staff combine to discover incredible archaeological finds that help to reveal the history of Southern Britain.
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Uncover the possibilities

Whether it's postgraduate study, undergraduate study or one of our short courses, find out more about the opportunities open to you.

Additional information

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Career development

Read about career and development opportunities and discover how gaining industry experience could help you.

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International students

We have a strong international student community. Find all the practical advice and information you need here.