Syllabus: The Science of Skeletons – Introduction to Bioarchaeology

Last month I received some excellent news. My course proposal, which I assembled somewhat manically during the thick of data collection this past summer, was accepted by the Department of Anthropology. This means that I have the opportunity to teach a summer course at the University of Michigan in July and August 2014 (as long as I can recruit the requisite number of students), and it also means that after six semesters of teaching, I’ll finally be able to teach bioarchaeology.

Course flyer

I’ve acted as a Teaching Assistant for a number of different anthropology courses before, including introduction to primatology, human behavioral ecology, introduction to biological anthropology, nutritional anthropology, and human evolution. While some of the more paleoanthropology flavored classes have allowed me to create labs that incorporate teaching osteology, I’ve generally led a pedagogical life sadly devoid of bones. No more!

Syllabus - first page
I’ve titled the course “The Science of Skeletons: Introduction to Bioarchaeology“. A course description can be found below, and I’m attaching pdfs of the course flyer and syllabus at the end of this post. If you’ve ever taught bioarchaeology courses, or remember particularly excellent classes from when you took the subject yourself, I’m all External Auditory Meatuses. Any suggestions about readings, labs, particularly insightful videos or clips are all welcome. I just hope that the students are as excited to take this course as I am to teach it!

Course Description: Bioarchaeology is the study of human skeletal material from archaeological sites, and this course will outline the ways that bioarchaeologists use data collected from human bones to estimate age and sex, diagnose ancient diseases, and examine activity levels and movement across prehistoric landscapes. Students will have an opportunity to conduct hands-on labs with human skeletal remains, learning how bioarchaeologists use scientific methods to understand past lives. Each week will begin with a hands-on lab or fieldtrip, which will be followed by an in-depth discussion of the implications of such methods for archaeological understandings of the human past. We will explore how to estimate the age and sex of individuals, to identify prehistoric diseases, to estimate stature, and to make predictions about an individual’s ancestry. The course will also outline how bioarchaeology can reveal important information about key prehistoric social transformations– specifically focusing on the costs and benefits of the transition to agriculture – and will also touch upon the ways that bioarchaeology and its findings are portrayed in different contemporary contexts such as museum exhibits and the popular media.

Note: I’ve updated the syllabus since I first drafted it, so the syllabus pdf below is updated.

Course Flyer – The Science of Skeletons: Introduction to Bioarchaeology

Syllabus – The Science of Skeletons: Introduction to Bioarchaeology

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4 Responses to Syllabus: The Science of Skeletons – Introduction to Bioarchaeology

  1. Dear Jess Beck, this is a wonderful news!
    I’m very glad you succeded in having your own course.
    If only I didn’t live thousands miles away (Italy) I would come follow your cours with great interest.
    I recently discovered my interest for human osteology and anthropology (I’m currently attending the Anthropology course of Prof. Cristina Cattaneo, in Milano) and your blog is a real blessing: very interesting and amusing at the same time.
    I’m not familiar with the american style of organizing courses, but I wish we could do the same in Italy! I got a PhD in Biotechnology last february, but there’s no hope for me to teach a personal course in the University, because this is a possibility limited to professors or advanced researchers…
    So, I’m really happy you had this opportunity!
    Best wishes for your career


  2. JB says:

    Hi Roberto,
    Thanks! I’m glad you like the blog – it’s a lot of fun to write.

    The system is a little more variable in the United States than it is in Italy – some universities use graduate student teaching assistants (who generally act as assistants to professors by teaching small numbers of students several times a week) or graduate student instructors (who teach their own classes), while other universities barely give you a chance to teach at all. I’m really lucky that the Department of Anthropology at UMich provides so many opportunities to interact with undergrads.

    Good luck with your anthropology course! Be careful though – it’s an addictive field. After another course or two you may feel inclined to shift your research focus from biotechnology to anthropology!


  3. Pingback: Bone Broke Year in Review | Bone Broke

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