Skip to main content

MSc Osteoarchaeology

MSc Osteoarchaeology
  • Delivery:
    Full time according to Funding Council definitions

Please note this course is no longer open for applications.

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

Webinar: Master's degrees in sciences

Please watch the recorded BU Webinar 'Masters Degrees in Sciences'. Presented by Paul Kneller, Senior Lecturer in Forensic Science at the Faculty of Science & Technology, this webinar will give you an excellent insight into the Faculty of Science & Technology postgraduate courses that BU offer.

Osteoarchaeology is concerned with the study of human and animal remains from archaeological sites. This course provides practical skills in the identification and analysis of both human and animal bones, while providing a theoretical archaeological underpinning focused on the interpretation of human and animal remains in the context of the diet, health, natural environment, economy, social and ritual activities of past human societies.

The opportunity to study both animals and human remains as part of the same course is of great benefit as the two sets of analytical skills complement and strengthen each other.

There are option units within this Osteoarchaeology course that will enable you to tailor your learning. It also provides the opportunity if you have a particular preference or aptitude for either animal or human remains the chance to specialise your studies in either area. The course is delivered by an experienced and enthusiastic team who are leading experts in their fields.

Key information


Bournemouth University, Talbot Campus


1 year full-time, 2 years part-time

Relevant subjects:

Archaeology, anthropology, biological or forensic sciences

Entry requirements:

A Bachelors Honours degree, 2:2 or above or eqivalent in a relevant disicpline or relevant comprehensive professional experience. If English is not your first language you'll need IELTS 6.5 (Academic) or above. For more information see our full entry requirements

Course details

Core units

  • 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.

  • Principles & Methods in Zooarchaeology: 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.

  • Advanced Zooarchaeology: Your identification skills will be put to practice during this explorative unit of a diverse range of skeletal remains. You will evaluate the potential of archaeological data and consider ways in which you can put together an appropriate programme of post-excavation analysis and design a suitable recording scheme for a selected body of material.

  • 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. You'll choose one of the following units:

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

  • 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.
  • 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.

And one of the following:

  • 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.

  • Bodies of Evidence - Skeletal Changes Before & After Death: This unit focuses on skeletonised remains and interpreting material from forensic contexts, although the content will also be relevant to archaeological material and some consideration will be given to soft tissue remains. The unit will consider changes that take place during an individual’s life and after death that produce variations in the nature and appearance of the skeleton. Variation sources during life include disease processes and injuries affecting bone, whilst post-mortem events include the decomposition processes, changes in the burial environment and alteration by burning. You'll also consider the ways skeletal samples can be investigated statistically at the level of populations. Professional frameworks relating to forensic casework and procedures and methods of report writing will also be taught.

Programme specification

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 Osteoarchaeology

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 Osteoarchaeology we are looking for applicants who have:

  • The ability to apply knowledge across disciplines
  • An interest in/knowledge of archaeology
  • An interest in/knowledge of skeletal anatomy
  • Enthusiasm for studying past societies
  • Enquiring minds and motivation.

Applicants can come from a range of different backgrounds, normally from archaeology and historical arenas and/or the biological, natural or medical sciences. We welcome applicants who are interested in studying past societies through the practical analysis of human and animal remains.

You should be prepared to gain hands-on practical identification and analytical skills, as well as theoretical knowledge in order to interpret the osteoarchaeological evidence. This course will suit you if you wish to gain practical skills in skeletal identification and to use these skills to gain a wider understanding of our archaeological past. The study of human and animal archaeological remains draws on a wide range of disciplines and applicants from a range of subject backgrounds and experience are welcomed.

Selection methods

Selection of applicants is based on the completion of an application form, taking into account prior academic qualifications, relevant experience, personal statements and references. Applicants may occasionally be asked to attend interview or provide additional information to confirm their suitability. For that reason, make sure your application really stands out from the crowd, and leave us in no doubt as to why you should be joining BU.

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

Full entry requirements

The normal requirements for embarking upon this degree are:

  • Possession of a 2:2 degree or equivalent
  • 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 normal 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 overall with a minimum of 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 both in the UK and abroad.

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

  • Human osteoarchaeologist
  • Zooarchaeologists
  • Museum curator
  • Lecturer
  • Academic researcher.

Industries worked in

  • Education
  • Museums
  • Archaeological field units
  • Academic research.

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, many of these are included on the Next Steps insert enclosed with your offer letter.

  • 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

Dr Ellen Hambleton is the programme leader and specialises in the study of animal remains. She was Principal Investigator for the review of late Bronze Age and Iron Age faunal remains from Southern England, commissioned by English Heritage and is the co-director of a BU project investigating the social, political and economic landscape of the Durotriges in later Prehistoric and Roman Britain.

Paul Kneller is a Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science. His interests lie in environmental management and environmental applications of forensic techniques and the health and safety and environmental impacts of industrial and commercial activities.

You can read more about the staff in the Department of Archaeology, Anthropology & Forensic Science and register now to meet them at an open day.

Additional information

Simon Phelps

Career development

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

Purbeck House common room

International students

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