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Osteoarchaeology: The Truth in Our Bones (Coursera)

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.

Course Content:

Week 1 The Osteobiography. Estimating age in adults and subadults, estimation of sex and stature.

Week 2 Paleopathology. Different types of disease and trauma that can be detected in the human skeleton.

Week 3 Paleodiet. Using stable isotope analysis and dental disease to reconstruct diet in the past.

Week 4 Activity Reconstruction. Using entheseal change, joint degeneration and teeth to reconstruct activity in the past.

Week 5 Mobility and Migration. Using long bone morphology, Strontium isotopes and ancient DNA to reconstruct mobility and migration.