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    Human Osteology and Funerary Archaeology

    School of Biosciences, Faculty of Science

    Receive advanced training in the analysis of human skeletal remains and related funerary contexts to acquire deep understanding of people and populations in the past.
    Human Osteology and Funerary Archaeology

    Course description

    Working in specialist practical labs, you’ll get advanced training in the analysis of human remains. Through advanced anatomy practicals using plastinated prosections (preserved limbs and other human body parts), you'll gain a detailed understanding of skeletal and soft tissue anatomy. Lectures in funerary archaeology, on topics such as the earliest hominin burials, the nature and interpretation of the burial record, and analysis of the residues of funerary ritual, put the subject in context.

    As a member of a vibrant research community, you will also develop core skills in research project development and statistical data analysis. You’ll put these skills to work over the summer on an original, independent research project (the dissertation).

    Graduates from this course have pursued careers in academia, commercial archaeology, heritage management and museums. Many go on to PhDs.


    A selection of modules is available each year - some examples are below. There may be changes before you start your course. From May of the year of entry, formal programme regulations will be available in our Programme Regulations Finder.

    Core modules:

    Biological Anthropology I

    The module provides a theoretical background to the study of human skeletal remains as well as essential practical skills in the osteological analysis of human bone.

    15 credits
    Human Anatomy

    This module familiarises students with the human musculoskeletal system, providing knowledge of the head, neck and appendicular skeleton and its muscles and nerves, as well as insights into functional, developmental and comparative aspects of human morphology

    15 credits
    Human Osteology

    In this module the students are introduced to the human skeleton, both adult and immature, and comparative primate skeletons. They are provided with in depth information on how to recognise individual bones, how to side elements by being familiar with all pertinent landmarks. They will be introduced to the size and shape variation present in the skeleton of Homo sapiens, including variations due to sex, ethnic affinity, and temporal changes.

    15 credits
    Biological Anthropology II

    These classes expand on the core material covered in AAP680 Biological Anthropology 1 and cover the application of biological anthropology to broad research questions that are of fundamental importance in the study of past communities and societies. Half of the module explores the principal approaches by which analysis of the human skeleton can be contextualised. The other half of the module explores palaeopathological lesions and their interpretation as evidence of health and disease in the past.

    15 credits
    Funerary Archaeology

    This module provides an advanced level exploration of human responses to death in societies around the world. Delivered through a series of themed lectures and seminars, case studies focus on the nature and interpretation of the burial record, and survey the methods of analysis, theoretical underpinnings and material residues of funerary ritual helping the student to develop a broad knowledge of burial rites and a nuanced understanding of the discipline of funerary archaeology.

    15 credits
    Advanced Scientific Skills

    This module builds on existing, and further develops, generic scientific skills to equip postgraduate taught students with strong competences in presenting and reporting their research work using written and oral formats, in analysing data and the scientific literature, and in acquiring and extending their critical analysis skills. Teaching will be delivered using a blended approach with a combination of lectures, workshops, tutorials and seminars together with independent study and on-line teaching.

    Taught throughout the academic year, the module will be articulated around three units addressing: 

    Unit 1) Scientific presentation skills. In this unit, students will explore how to develop their academic (writing and oral) presentation skills. Some of the topics taught may include how to formulate a research question and hypothesis, how to find information, and how to structure a scientific essay or report. Students will learn how to communicate effectively their research to a scientific, as well as lay, audience. Emphasis will be placed on short oral communications and poster preparation and presentation.  The learning objectives will be acquired through lectures, workshops, tutorials and independent study.

    Unit 2) Critical analysis skills. This unit prepares students to develop their ability to analyse and appraise the scientific value of the published and unpublished literature. Workshops and lectures will introduce students to the process of critical appraisal of scientific work. 

    Unit 3) Statistics and data analysis skills. In this unit, students will learn methods to gather and analyse large datasets. In particular, workshops and lectures will teach students the basics of R coding and statistics for application in biosciences. The unit may also deliver other forms of data analysis relevant to the programme of study. Teaching within this unit will be delivered mainly through on-line material, lectures and workshops. Independent study will be essential to complete the acquisition of skills.

    15 credits
    Research Design for Bioarchaeology

    This module provides students with the advanced understanding they need to build their confidence in working on archaeological material and datasets, the skills to become an effective independent researcher in bioarchaeology and the tools to design an effective research project that addresses a question relevant to current debate in bioarchaeology. The module engages students with analytical approaches and thematic debates in research across the different fields of bioarchaeology. It supports employability through lectures from bioarchaeology professionals. The module also covers a range of specialist bioarchaeological techniques necessary for effective research, including preparation for undertaking assemblage-based reporting in professional and academic research.The module culminates in a research day during which students present their dissertation plans to their peers and staff assessors.

    Assessment is in three parts: a seminar report presented as a scientific poster; a succinct PowerPoint presentation of the dissertation proposal and outline; and a written dissertation proposal.

    15 credits
    Dissertation (Journal Paper Style)

    This module requires students to plan, execute and write up an original research project. This dissertation project is chosen with, and approved by, the designated supervisor, who may or may not be the programme director. Dissertation topics must be based on original research and on the students' own ideas: they must be worthwhile, affordable, manageable within time limits, be capable of supervision within the Department and related to the subject matter on the appropriate Masters. Students who choose this particular type of dissertation will place particular emphasis on synthetic writing and an ability to familiarise themselves with journal publication submission and style. With the exception of the word count the students will follow the editorial guidelines of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

    60 credits

    Optional modules

    A student will take 15 credits (one module) from this group:

    Evolutionary Anatomy

    This module incorporates lectures and practical demonstration (laboratory) sessions to explore the application of anatomical principles to the comparison and interpretation of the hominid and primate fossil record. The schedule is co-ordinated with that of AAP683, and incorporates additional material in lab sessions to understand the functional and comparative anatomy of modern and extinct hominoid primates. Demonstrations apply the knowledge of musculoskeletal and comparative anatomy to interpretation of hominid fossil specimens (casts and published information), and to understand the evolutionary adaptations of the hominid lineage.

    15 credits
    GIS for Archaeologists

    Introduce the principles, methods and data structures employed in the analysis and reconstruction of archaeological landscapes using spatial technologies. Provide hands-on training in the application of ArcGIS in archaeological research and professional practice. Enable students to develop skills in interpretation and problem-solving using GIS. Develop students' critical understanding of how spatial technologies are used in archaeological research.

    15 credits
    Human Evolution: Theory and Practice in Research

    This seminar module will present both historical and current issues in the study of human evolution, including new hominid fossil descriptions, debates over interpretations and explanatory models of primate and hominid palaeobiology, theoretical and philosophical topics in evolution, and practical and technological advances in early hominid fossil and archaeological interpretation. In some weeks, students will be required to prepare materials to lead the seminars, and occasional group work exercises will be introduced. The seminar topics will change from year to year to reflect new research, staff projects, guest lecturer availability, and student interests.

    15 credits
    Applied Bioarchaeological Science

    This course acquaints the student with a number of scientific analytical techniques and methods which are pertinent to the interpretation of key questions in bioarchaeology. These include histology and microscopic, chemical and isotopic techniques, ancient DNA analysis, lipid analysis and proteomics. It provides a theoretical introduction as well as some practical experience in sample preparation methodologies, data collection and analysis. The potential and limitations of methods are discussed through specific case studies.

    15 credits

    The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it's up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research; funding changes; professional accreditation requirements; student or employer feedback; outcomes of reviews; and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption.

    Open days

    An open day gives you the best opportunity to hear first-hand from our current students and staff about our courses.

    You may also be able to pre-book a department visit as part of a campus tour.Open days and campus tours


    1 year full-time


    You can expect a balanced timetable of lectures, seminars and practicals. You’ll have access to specialist labs and world-class reference collections.

    We integrate humanities and science-based approaches to nurture a deeper understanding. You’ll have the opportunity to explore different viewpoints and make up your own mind about their strengths and weaknesses.

    We’ll help you to develop your critical thinking as well as your practical skills. What we ask of you, as a member of our lively academic community, is that you challenge, question, and explore.


    All our masters students have the option to get involved in research projects – in the UK, Europe and elsewhere – even if fieldwork isn’t part of your course.


    Your assessments will include essays, portfolio work, practical work, exams and a journal-style paper.


    School of Biosciences

    The School of Biosciences brings together more than 100 years of teaching and research expertise across the breadth of biology.

    It’s home to over 120 lecturers who are actively involved in research at the cutting edge of their field, sharing their knowledge with more than 1,500 undergraduate and 300 postgraduate students. 

    We carry out world-leading research to address the most important global challenges such as food security, disease, health and medicine, ageing, energy, and the biodiversity and climate crises.

    Our expertise spans the breadth and depth of bioscience, including molecular and cell biology, genetics, development, human physiology and pharmacology through to evolution, ecology, biodiversity conservation and sustainability. This makes us one of the broadest and largest groupings of the discipline and allows us to train the next generation of biologists in the latest research techniques and discoveries.

    Student profiles

    Group of archaeology postgraduates

    I find my MSc exciting mostly because it lies between the scientific and humanistic fields of research, therefore it invites the students to learn how to think outside the box and link all the information together to solve a greater puzzle.

    Nicoletta Moca
    MSc Human Osteology and Funerary Archaeology

    Entry requirements

    Minimum 2:1 undergraduate honours degree in an arts, humanities or science subject.

    Your interest in and understanding of archaeology is more important than what you studied at undergraduate level: we may consider degrees in other subjects if you display an interest in archaeology in your application.

    We also consider a wide range of international qualifications:

    Entry requirements for international students

    Overall IELTS score of 6.5 with a minimum of 6.0 in each component, or equivalent.

    Pathway programme for international students

    If you're an international student who does not meet the entry requirements for this course, you have the opportunity to apply for a pre-masters programme in Science and Engineering or Business, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Sheffield International College. This course is designed to develop your English language and academic skills. Upon successful completion, you can progress to degree level study at the University of Sheffield.

    If you have any questions about entry requirements, please contact the department.

    Fees and funding


    If you accept a place on a course, you may be eligible to apply for White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities (WRoCAH) and University of Sheffield studentships. We also offer a number of department and course-specific scholarships. See the department's fees and funding page for more information.

    The Marek Zvelebil Scholarship for Human Osteology and Funerary Archaeology

    UK/EU/Overseas applicants who hold an offer of a place for a September start by 1 June 2023 will be automatically considered for this £1,000 scholarship award.

    Scholarships and funding support - Department of Archaeology


    You can apply now using our Postgraduate Online Application Form. It's a quick and easy process.

    Apply now


    +44 114 222 2900

    Any supervisors and research areas listed are indicative and may change before the start of the course.

    Our student protection plan

    Recognition of professional qualifications: from 1 January 2021, in order to have any UK professional qualifications recognised for work in an EU country across a number of regulated and other professions you need to apply to the host country for recognition. Read information from the UK government and the EU Regulated Professions Database.