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Leiden University

Osteoarchaeology: The Truth in Our Bones

Leiden University via Coursera

This course may be unavailable.


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 Biography & Demography: Lesson Choices
    • Choose one mystery which you will be solving, little by little, throughout the course. This week study the clues to find out if this individual was a man or a woman, and how old and how tall he or she was.
  • 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 Disease and Trauma: Lesson Choices
    • Please continue solving the Mystery that you started in week one. Look at the bony lesions and study them carefully to find out what disease(s) this individual had, and what they were caused by.
  • 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 Diet: Lesson Choices
    • Continue analyzing the skeleton that you chose in week one. Study the values, tables and pictures provided to find out more about the foods that this individual ate and how it affected the composition and appearance of their skeleton.
  • 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 Activity: Lesson Choices
    • Continue solving the Mystery you chose in week one. Study the marks left on the skeleton as a result of activity and you will find out more about what activities this individual performed and the impact it had on their body.
  • 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.
  • Bones to Mobility and Migration: Lesson Choices
    • This week, decipher the final clues about the case study you chose in week one. Examine the values, figures, tables and graphs provided to find out how mobile this individual was during their life, and if, how, and where they migrated.

Taught by

Andrea Waters-Rist


4.9 rating, based on 14 Class Central reviews

4.7 rating at Coursera based on 469 ratings

Start your review of Osteoarchaeology: The Truth in Our Bones

  • I really enjoyed the course. It was easy to complete as it was very flexible with the timing and content. The quizzes were difficult but not exceedingly so, however I did notice a few times a misalignment between the "answers " in the assignments with the content provided. You definitely need to read all of the additional, suggested readings to maximise your chance of top marks. Overall a great experience and I would recommend to anyone interested in archaeology and/or anatomy.
  • Linda Saalman
    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…
  • Anonymous
    The course is very interesting and you can see this since the beginning presentation. The topic is very well chosen because 1) clearly delimited topic dimension : beginner but with real and consistent scientific support ; 2) different source fiel…
  • A fascinating topic, presented so well it was like being at University. I wanted to know more about this topic so that I can ask intelligent questions. I had retired but have to go back to work as my pension is paid in sterling, which is worth l…
  • Anonymous
    Bravo to Andrea Waters-Rist, the lead instructor, who made this course interesting and incredibly informative. The course was designed to guide the student through basic yet engaging layers of osteoarchaeology. The course began with osteobiography t…
  • Anonymous
    Hello all. It was a very nice course, at an introductory level on osteoarchaeology. It's contents were short but crisp. I loved the assignments as there were people who knew a lot and reading their answers helped me gain more knowledge. All in all, it was a great course
  • Anonymous
    I would like to recommend this course to everyone who wants to learn about human origins, the body, and many other interesting things about our ancestors and their history.
    Thank you so much for your kindness and professionality.
  • Anonymous
    I loved this course. Fascinating information and case studies presented. Well laid out, organized and the instructor was extremely knowledgeable. I especially loved the modules on paleopathology and entheses/activity markers. Highly recommend!
  • 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.
  • Anonymous
    Very interesting & in depth. I learned a lot. At first it was a bit difficult because I had no background in anatomy whatsoever, but it has really motivated me to look for more info and I learned heaps. I especially appreciated the weekly assignments that really help you to transfer theoretical knowledge into practical insights. Love it, would immediately take a follow-up course if available!
  • Anonymous
    I really enjoyed this course and would recommend it to others who are generally interested in the field or wanting to explore something new. The material was well put together and I learned a lot.
  • Anonymous
    Really comprehensive look at everything. Deadlines sometimes felt a little short. Had to properly think about the different assignments but well worth taking
  • Anonymous
    Amazing course! Very well structured and educational. The assigments and the discussion sections are great to get you involved and apply what you've learnt.
  • Very informative course with lots of details. If you want to learn about osteology, this is the right course for you. I highly recommad it!

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