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Forensic Archaeology and Anthropology

Enter the fascinating world of forensics, and learn how the deceased are located, recovered and analysed using DNA and pathology.

21,237 enrolled on this course

Forensic Archaeology and Anthropology
  • Duration6 weeks
  • Weekly study3 hours
  • LearnFree
  • Extra BenefitsFrom $89Find out more

Learn the science behind the exhumation and identification of skeletal remains

The location, exhumation and identification of the dead requires highly specialised expertise. On this course, you’ll learn the latest scientific techniques for body location, recovery and analysis.

Through a series of real-life case studies, video lab sessions, interactive 3D models, photographs and podcasts, you’ll explore key forensic techniques.

You’ll learn how to locate gravesites, excavate human remains, and determine factors like sex and age-at-death from the skeleton. You will also understand how to identify pathology on the skeleton, and be introduced to DNA analysis.


  • Week 1

    Introduction to Forensic Anthropology and Archaeology

    • Introduction

      Isn't archaeology about the past and not the present? Good question! Here we define and discuss the relevance and application of archaeology and anthropology to forensic science.

    • What is Forensic Archaeology and Forensic Anthropology

      Here we provide an introduction to the principal differences between these two disciplines.

    • Summary, Quiz and Discussion

      Here we provide a brief summary of the key learning and provide a short quiz to test your new knowledge! We will discuss the following week's content involving body location and excavation.

  • Week 2

    Bodily Decomposition, Locating Graves and Excavation

    • What Happens to Human Bodies in the Ground

      In Week 1 we briefly described what happens to a body after death. Here we will expand on this to look at the wide variety of factors affecting the body and its state of preservation once it is buried in the ground.

    • Body Location

      Locating the body or grave is a critical step in forensic analysis. We'll discuss a number of strategies that you can use to help locate and identify a grave site.

    • Excavation

      Once the likely grave site has been identified, the surrounding vegetation should be investigated for possible associated items (e.g personal effects, bullets, weapons) and then cleared to expose the edges of the grave cut.

    • 3D Scanning and Documentation

      The latest research is exploring how methods of 3D scanning can support the work of forensic archaeologists and anthropologists.

    • Summary and quiz

      Summary and quiz

  • Week 3

    In the Lab: Creating an Osteological Profile

    • The Human Bone Lab

      Now that we've excavated the skeleton we need to take it to the lab and construct an osteoprofile.

    • Determining the Sex of Adult Skeletons

      Determining sex from human skeletal remains is a crucial component of the osteoprofile. Here we discuss several methods to assess sex from adult skeletons.

    • Estimating Age-at-Death of Infants and Juveniles

      Methods for estimating the age-at-death of children are different from those used for adults. Here several methods for assessing age-at-death in non-adult skeletal remains are discussed.

    • Estimating Age-at-Death and Stature in Adults

      Age-at-death and stature are two aspects of identity that can be generated from adult skeletal remains. Work your way with through this activity to find out how.

    • Quiz and Summary

      Be sure you've learned everything you need to about sex, age-at-death and stature estimation before moving on. Review this summary and take a short quiz to test your knowledge.

  • Week 4

    Disease and Trauma: Identification of Pathological Lesions

    • Introduction to Trauma and Pathology

      Evidence of pathology and/or trauma on the skeleton are important to record, both in terms of identifying the deceased and providing possible evidence of the circumstances or cause of death.

    • Recording Pathology

      Recording pathology from the skeleton requires an excellent knowledge of normal bone anatomy and variation. The type of pathology must be considered, where new bone is forming or bone is being destroyed.

    • Trauma

      Analysing a skeleton for signs of trauma is an important component of forensic practice.

    • Forensic Odontology

      The teeth survive well in the ground, even in conditions which destroy the rest of the skeleton. Teeth can be a quick and useful way of establishing identity.

    • Quiz and Summary

      Quiz and Summary

  • Week 5

    Biomolecular Techniques of Identification

    • DNA

      DNA is an increasingly used and important part of forensic investigation. Read here to learn about the basic principles behind DNA analysis and how this type of investigation can be applied in forensic anthropology.

    • Stable Isotopes

      Learn about stable isotopes and the different ways in which scientists analyse them to find out about people in the past and the present.

    • Sex determination from the teeth

      Here we will discuss a new technique which analyses the peptides in dental enamel to determine sex. This method can be used on even degraded and fragmentary remains.

    • Quiz and Summary

      Test your new knowledge with a quiz and then we provide a brief summary of the key points of the week.

  • Week 6

    Challenging Contexts

    • Burned Bodies

      What happens to the human body when it is burned and how does this affect anthropological analysis.

    • Commingled Contexts

      This activity explains what commingled contexts are and the challenges they pose for forensic anthropologists and archaeologists.

    • Humanitarian Forensic Action

      When people die during war, disaster or migration, their bodies must be handled respectfully and with dignity. This humanitarian work includes forensic expertise - we will cover this here.

    • The Refugee 'Crisis'

      One of the biggest challenges facing governments today is the large number of people fleeing from dangerous regions and crossing into new countries. Here we will look at the contribution of forensic archaeology and anthropology.

    • Summary and Next Steps

      Here we provide a brief summary of the key learning and provide a short quiz to test your new knowledge! We will also think about what you can do next.

    • End of Course Test

      Test you knowledge from the last 6 weeks.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and learn at your own pace. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explore the application of archaeology and anthropology to different forensic contexts
  • Develop knowledge of the latest methods in forensic archaeology and anthropology
  • Compare the roles of different forensic specialists
  • Interpret the post-mortem changes to the human body in differing contexts
  • Describe a range of forensic case studies
  • Evaluate the potentials and limitations of the scientific methods used to locate and recover human remains in forensic contexts
  • Investigate the different scientific techniques used to identify deceased individuals from skeletal remains and establish cause of death
  • Reflect on learning gained throughout the course, including the latest research, and how this can be applied to modern forensic and archaeological contexts.

Who is the course for?

This course is suitable for anyone intrigued by forensic archaeology and anthropology.

The course is specifically designed for forensic, crime scene, and police practitioners who require training in anthropological and archaeological techniques.

It will be useful for undergraduate forensics students or those interested in studying forensic archaeology and anthropology at university.

It may also be useful to those working in legal and human rights contexts who require an understanding of forensic methods.

Who will you learn with?

I am a bioarchaeologist at Durham University, teaching and researching human skeletal remains. I also train national and international forensic practitioners in archaeology and anthropology.

I am a Professor and Associate Dean at Teesside University. I work in the area of forensic anthropology where I teach practitioners, research new forensic methods, and undertake case and advisory work

Who developed the course?

Durham University

Durham University is a collegiate university with long traditions and modern values, proud to be an international scholarly community which reflects the ambitions of cultures from around the world.


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