So I have finally landed in Sheffield, ready to start the Masters course in Human Osteology & Funerary Archaeology based in the Archaeology department. I have had the introduction talks to both the University and to the course, and I am now filled with both trepidation & excitement!
The Sheffield program in Human Osteology offers several key things that made me sign up for their course above all others in the UK. Firstly they offer the degree setting in a first class department with a wide variety of specialities, and numerous well-known archaeologists. Secondly, the degree doesn’t just focus on the human skeleton in death but also on the soft tissues in life. A core module this semester is Human Anatomy, in which I’ll be expected to learn the musculoskeletal system in detail through both lectures & dissection classes in the Biomedical department. Thirdly, the course offers a more hands on approach to learning, by laying out the skeletons & getting the chance to study an individual in-depth.
The modules in the program include:-
1. Human Osteology–
This lab and lecture based module will introduce the students to the core basics of the human skeleton. Each week we we’ll be examining a part of the skeleton and studying its major muscle attachment features, ossification points and major landmarks. We’ll be tested with a series of mini quizzes in both identifying fragments of bone & remarking on the major landmarks present.
2. Human Anatomy–
A lecture & dissection based module in which all of the muscles of the musculoskeletal system will be studied in anatomical position, and how the origin and insertion points correspond with other muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves and bone. I am feeling quite apprehensive regarding this module as it will be the first time I’ve dissected a human body (wonderfully donated to the biomedical services of the University by generous members of the public), and the first time I’ve had to learn anatomy in detail.
3. Biological Anthropology 1–
The BioAnth 1 module will deal with the wider issues, uses and research of the human skeleton in biological anthropology. This involves the discussion and methods used in the taphonomy of remains, how to age & sex the skeleton, metric and non-metric variations & traits, bone microstructure & chemistry, analysis of cremated material, and finally how the skeletal data is assessed and reported; all taught through lectures & labs. This allows the core skills to be acquired and built upon in the next BioAnth module.
4. Biological Anthropology 2–
The second module builds upon what is learnt from the first module, and deals with the broader issues regarding palaeodemography, growth and development, functional anatomy, biological evolution, population affinities & dietary reconstruction amongst others. Again, this module looks very interesting and I’m quite keen to get my teeth into some of the issues discussed.
5. Funerary Archaeology–
A core module of the MSc, the module deals with the various ways in which human societies worldwide deal with issues relating to death. The societies discussed include both past and present throughout the world, and includes the varying funerary rituals present and the human responses to death. The module will include case studies and focus on interpretation of the material and funerary culture alongside symbolism used in funerary rituals.
6. Quantitative Methods in Anthropology–
Perhaps the module I am most nervous about! This module will introduce and discuss various computational methods used in osteology, physical anthropology and palaeanthropology. Both lecture and computer lab based classes will discuss various statistical methods used in modern anthropological research; this includes the use of modern computer programs such as CranID amongst others. The use of statistics in human osteology is really key as a lot of time is spent interpreting the data from metric measurements to discern morphological changes and population affinities in skeletal populations.
7. Research Design in Anthropology–
This module is primarily concerned with the dissertation aspect of the Masters so will include discussions such as feasibility studies depending on topic to be researched. (I’d better get thinking!). Essentially it will prepare the student with critical skills in thinking of original and worthwhile topics to pursue an original program of research for the dissertation aspect of the degree.
8. Biomolecular Archaeology (My one free choice module!)-
This is a lecture based approach to methods & issues used and discussed in the field of biomolecular archaeology. I’m particularly looking forward to learning more about aDNA & the use of stable light isotopes, both of which are helping to change and improve the knowledge of human evolution & diversity as we know it. This module also discusses biomolecular techniques on both archaeobotanical and archaeozoological material, something that I’m also looking forward too. The subjects that will be discussed include isotopes, lipids, proteins, and aDNA, which will be applied to key aspects of the human past such as dispersal, the rise of agriculture & investigation of disease.
The first semester will lay the groundwork for the modules and dissertation research in the 2nd semester and Summer dissertation research period. The first semester topics include Human Osteology, Human Anatomy, Funerary Archaeology & Biological Anthropology 1.
I started this blog to help introduce the field of Human Osteology from a student who is just starting to study the subject. I also use this blog to update on various new finds or reports in the wider archaeological fields. I will continue to do this as my program proceeds, however I may be slower in posting as the course is very intensive. I also want to take this opportunity to thank readers, both past and present, for providing positive feedback thus far into the journey.
It is hereby noted that the information is taken from the Archaeology Departments information freely available over the internet and from my own personal notes & module information booklets.