Taught course

Bioarchaeology

Institution
Durham University · Department of Archaeology
Qualifications
MSc

Entry requirements

A minimum of an upper second-class (2:1) degree (GPA 3.3.) or equivalent in Archaeology, Anthropology, Biology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Environmental Science, Geography, or related disciplines. Relevant working experience will also be considered.

Months of entry

September

Course content

Bioarchaeology is a branch of archaeology that focuses on the study of biological materials found in archaeological contexts to provide information about the life and environment of humans in the past. It is a fast-paced and continually evolving field, with new breakthroughs and discoveries emerging almost every month. Studying the subject at Durham University opens the door to the latest developments in archaeological science, including human bioarchaeology and palaeopathology, stable isotope mass spectrometry, ancient DNA, and environmental archaeology.

The Bioarchaeology Research Group at Durham works in cutting-edge laboratories, specialising and teaching in the areas of human health and well-being, diet and lifeways, human and animal identities, dispersals and mobility, the reconstruction of palaeoenvironments, and human-animal-environment relations. Many of the assemblages our students work with for their research derive from staff research projects, or the excavations of our in-house commercial unit, Archaeological Services.

Durham University’s unique MSc Bioarchaeology is aimed at inquisitive graduates from archaeology or science backgrounds, and those with professional experience in commercial archaeology or museums, who are interested in learning how biosciences can be applied to field research or museum collections. It provides high quality training in analytical, research, and communication skills, which prepares students for progression to doctoral research in bioarchaeology.

Course Structure

The MSc Bioarchaeology comprises five modules totalling 180 credits, one of which is a compulsory research skills module (30 credits), and one of which is a supervised research dissertation (60 credits). The remaining three modules (each 30 credits) differ according to the pathway selected through the degree.

In 2020-21, there are four possible pathways through the MSc, which allow students to develop a bespoke programme, tailored to their interests and goals:

  • A general Bioarchaeology degree, which does not place an emphasis on one particular specialism, and provides a broad overview of bioarchaeology.
  • The Human Bioarchaeology and Palaeopathology stream, which focusses on the study of human skeletal remains.
  • The Biomolecular Archaeology stream, which focusses on the study of stable isotopes and DNA extracted from biological materials.
  • The Environmental Archaeology stream, which focusses on the study of animal bones, plant remains, and soils from archaeological contexts.

Core modules (all streams):

  • Research and Study Skills in Archaeological Science (30 credits, Term 1): The foundational skills module for the degree, which provides students with an advanced understanding of qualitative and quantitative research methods, research design, and presentation and communication skills required for post-graduate level study and beyond.
  • Dissertation (60 credits, Term 3): The capstone of the degree, this 15,000-word thesis provides experience of sustained, rigorous, independent research on a bioarchaeology topic selected by the student, guided and supervised by a member of staff who is an expert in the chosen field. Students who elect to declare a specialist stream must write a dissertation in their chosen subject.

List A modules (selection determines stream):

Students must take one of the following modules, as determined by the chosen degree pathway:

  • Themes in Palaeopathology (30 credits, Term 2): A core module for the Human Bioarchaeology and Palaeopathology stream. This module provides students with knowledge about how to conduct palaeopathological research using a biocultural approach, by considering specific themes and the evidence used to investigate them.
  • Topics in Archaeological Science (30 credits, Term 2): A core module for the general Bioarchaeology degree, and for the Biomolecular Archaeology and Environmental Archaeology streams. This module explores key topics, research themes, and scientific methods in bioarchaeology, and critically evaluates their potential and limitations.

List B modules (selection determines stream):

Students who elect to take the general Bioarchaeology degree may select any of the following modules. Students who choose to follow one of the specialist streams are expected to select the core options for that stream, and from among the optional options for that stream, as indicated below.

  • Research Topics in Archaeology: Forensic Archaeology and Anthropology (30 credits, Term 1): A core module for the Human Bioarchaeology and Palaeopathology stream. This module provides students with knowledge of the latest scientific techniques for locating, recovering, and analysing human skeletal remains.
  • Research Topics in Archaeology: Forensic and Archaeological Genetics (30 credits, Term 1): A core module for the Biomolecular Archaeology stream. This module introduces students to the principles of genetic human identification, and the main applications, potential, and limitations of ancient DNA in archaeology.
  • Research Topics in Archaeology: Current Geoarchaeology – Reconstructing Archaeological Sites (30 credits, Term 1): A core module for the Environmental Archaeology stream. This module introduces students to the range of geoarchaeological approaches currently being used to research daily life, living conditions, the use of space, and human-animal relations on archaeological sites.
  • Practical Guided Study (30 credits, Term 2): An optional module for all streams, but most appropriate for the specialist streams. This module involves a practical-based research project on a topic selected by the student, with training and supervision provided by a member of staff who is an expert in the chosen field. It results in a specialist report of 4000 words, and must be in the chosen subject of the selected stream.
  • Research Topics in Archaeology: Migration and Movement of People in Medieval and Post-Medieval Britain (30 credits, Term 2): An optional module for the Biomolecular Archaeology stream. This module explores the isotopic evidence and the ancient and modern genetic evidence for the movement and migration of people in the past.
  • Research Topics in Archaeology: Isotope Magic! Exploring the Use and Abuse of Archaeological Isotope Data in the Media (30 credits, Term 2): An optional module for the Biomolecular Archaeology stream. This module compares published studies of isotopic data applied to archaeology, and the resulting media stories, to explore how such data is exploited, presented, and used.
  • Research Topics in Archaeology: Vikings, Fire and Ice – Environmental Archaeology of the North Atlantic Islands (30 credits, Term 2): An optional module for the Environmental Archaeology stream. This module examines the nature of human-environment interactions across a variety of island systems in the North Atlantic, and addresses themes of colonisation and human impact, adaptation to marginal environments, and economic continuity and change.
  • Themes in Palaeopathology (30 credits, Term 2): This option cannot be selected again if it was selected as a List A module, but it is an optional module for the general Bioarchaeology degree. This module provides students with knowledge about how to conduct palaeopathological research using a biocultural approach, by considering specific themes and the evidence used to investigate them.
  • Topics in Archaeological Science (30 credits, Term 2): This option cannot be selected again if it was selected as a List A module, but it is an optional module for the Human Bioarchaeology and Palaeopathology stream. This module explores key topics, research themes, and scientific methods in bioarchaeology, and critically evaluates their potential and limitations.

Part-time students typically take 90 credits each year over two years. They are required to take Research and Study Skills in Archaeological Science in Year 1, and the Dissertation in Year 2.

Information for international students

Scholarships available for 2022 entry will be determined in September 2021. Over 60 scholarships are available, each year. Some scholarships are awarded to more than one person. For further information see the course listing.

Fees and funding

UK students
£11,000.00 per year
International students
£23,750.00 per year

www.durham.ac.uk/study/pg/finance

Qualification, course duration and attendance options

  • MSc
    part time
    24 months
    • Campus-based learningis available for this qualification
    full time
    12 months
    • Campus-based learningis available for this qualification

Course contact details

Name
Enquiries
Email
study@durham.ac.uk