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BioAnth Courses: B18 – Decoding the Skeleton

b18B18 – Decoding the Skeleton

This paper explores how we can investigate human biology, adaptation, evolution and variation from skeletons and fossils.

Skeletons and fossils are frequently the only physical remains we have of past populations, and offer a crucial window on the biology and lives of our ancestors. This paper considers the varied aspects of life in the past that we can infer from bones, including age at death, sex, body size, growth, activity, health, and taxonomy. It explores the different methods employed in skeletal analyses, and the basis for the techniques we use: how variation in living reference populations for which we know patterns of aging, sexual dimorphism, growth, enable to infer these characteristics from the skeletal remains. It also considers the challenges of applying these techniques based on modern populations to the fossil and archaeological records. In addition to traditional methods for estimating characters such as life span and health, the paper explores how more recent developments in fields such as palaeogenomics, palaeoproteomics, analyses of 3D morphology and work on dental calculus offer new ways in which to understand ancient lifeways and relationships among different individuals, populations and species of hominins.


It may be taken as an option by:

  • students doing the Biological Anthropology Track in Part IIB of the Archaeology Tripos
  • students doing the Biological Anthropology/Archaeology Joint Track as Part IIB of the Archaeology Tripos
  • students who have completed Part IB MVST, NST, PBS or Part IIA HSPS and are doing a one-year Part II in Biological Anthropology as part of the Archaeology Tripos
  • students doing Part II PBS and NST or Part IIB Archaeology
  • NST Part II Biological and Biomedical Sciences students as part of a Major in Human Evolution, Ecology and Behaviour


Paper Coordinators: Prof Marta Mirazon Lahr & Dr Emma Pomeroy
Michaelmas Term: 16 seminars & practical sessions
Examination: submitted work