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Osteoarchaeology: The Truth in Our Bones

Leiden University via Coursera

2 Reviews 930 students interested
  • Provider Coursera
  • Subject Biology
  • Cost Free Online Course (Audit)
  • Session In progress
  • Language English
  • Certificate Paid Certificate Available
  • Start Date
  • Duration 5 weeks long
  • Learn more about MOOCs

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This course is about what we can learn from examining the human skeleton, and how we can use this knowledge to reconstruct the lives of people who lived in the past. In archaeology and anthropology, human skeletal remains can provide unique insights into the past and the present; insights that cannot be gained otherwise.
These insights are explored in five main themes spread out over five weeks of learning. First, it is shown how age-at-death, sex and stature can be estimated by the close examination of (archaeological) skeletal remains. In subsequent modules it is shown how human bones can provide information about the diseases and injuries that people suffered from and what they ate. Also, it is shown how the human skeleton provides information about the kinds of activities that people engaged in and about how they migrated and moved around their landscapes.

In this course, you will examine all aspects of the human skeleton that can provide us with information about these different facets of life. Together we will explore the scientific field that is known as human osteoarchaeology.
- Human, because it is about us and our ancestors,
- Osteo, because it is about our bones,
- Archaeology, because we use this information to better understand the behaviors and events experienced by past people.

During the course, you will decipher the clues left behind in the skeletons of past peoples with the methods and techniques that are presented. You may also discover some clues hidden in your own skeleton and what they reveal about the life that you are living.

Want to know more? You can take a look at the course trailer here:


Introduction to the course
Hello and welcome to this course, Osteoarchaeology, the Truth in Our Bones. In this first, introductory module, you will learn about what this course is about and how it is set up. Watch the first three lectures to learn more about what Osteoarchaeology is, and the topics that you will be exploring each week. Read the course documents to find out more about how you will be graded and the tests you will be taking in each module. You will also find some documents that will help you to get the most out of this MOOC. Good luck!

Bones to Biography & Demography
Welcome to the first content module of this course! This week is all about introducing you to the primary things that we can learn from nearly all human skeletons. Who are the people who lived in the past? Are they men, women or children? How old did they become, and how tall did they get? We can answer these questions by studying a range of bones contained in the human skeleton. Here, we will be showing you exactly how to do that, and hope you will learn a lot!

Bones to Disease and Trauma
Welcome to the second module! This week is all about disease in the past. How healthy were people really, and what diseases did they suffer from? We will show you how to answer these questions by studying the diseases that can be detected in human skeletal remains. We specifically focus on trauma including bone fractures, but also the diseases rickets and leprosy.

Bones to Diet
Welcome to the third module! This week is all about diet in the past. What did people eat in the past and in what proportions? Did different groups of people eat different things, and did their diet change throughout time? This week we will show you how to answer such questions by studying the human skeleton. We will be focussing on the analysis of stable isotopes like Carbon and Nitrogen that can be found in human bones and teeth.

Bones to Activity
Welcome to module four! This week is all about activity. What activities did people perform in the past? How did they move about, and how much? We will be answering these questions by studying many different aspects of the skeleton, like long bones, joints, the spine, and even teeth. We will be showing you what all these marks mean, and what they can tell us today about activities performed in the past.

Bones to Mobility and Migration
Welcome to the last module of this course! This week is all about mobility and migration, so people moving through the landscape. How much did people relocate, and where did they go? We can answer these questions by looking at the shape of longbones, and by studying the isotopes and the DNA that can be found in human bones. Stick with us to find out how exactly these methods work, and what they reveal about population movements in the past.

Taught by

Andrea Waters-Rist


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Reviews for Coursera's Osteoarchaeology: The Truth in Our Bones
5.0 Based on 2 reviews

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Linda S
5.0 a year ago
by Linda completed this course, spending 8 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be hard.
This is a remarkably well-designed and executed class -- found it fascinating, learned a lot, and loved the way it made full and effective use of the Coursera platform. If you have any interest in archaeology, physical anthropology, history, or even occupational or physical therapy, you should consider it. Not only did it effectively engage the strengths of multiple instructors, but it also made the best use of student projects that I've experienced. As an older student who has more difficulty remembering new vocabulary than I once did, the projects were particularly helpful in cementing the new terminology, as well as providing a great way to practice what I learned. Note that if you are serious about both the topic and the project assignments (which also entail evaluating the completed project steps of other students), this class requires more time each week than other courses I've taken -- not to listen to lectures, but to apply and use and practice what you've learned.
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Kristina Š
5.0 a month ago
by Kristina completed this course and found the course difficulty to be medium.
Even though I've taken it as a hobby, this course was an amazing ride, and it'll make you regret you hadn't studied osteoarchaeology in college. :) It's a new exciting interdisciplinary field, and the course will teach you various things you can deduce from someone's bones, such as their age, gender, mobility and migration during life, diseases and trauma, one's diet, one's childhood and adult home, and levels of activity. All these fascinating information will be presented through various scientific methods, using the most recent breakthroughs and methods, and you'll be able to practice yourself in mysteries, where you'll deduce these things and their degrees in bones. All in all, a huge recommendation. I hope to see a sequel.

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