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In the Human Bone Lab

Introduction to the Human Bone Lab with Dr Rebecca Gowland
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I’m Dr. Rebecca Gowland, and I’m here in the human osteology lab at Durham University in the department of archaeology. I’m a specialist in human bones. And what I’ll be showing you today is the different methods that we use to create an osteological profile from either forensic or archaeological skeletal remains. During the course of this series, we’ll be looking at how to determine sex from skeletal remains, how to estimate age-at-death from infant and juvenile remains as well as adult skeletal remains, how to estimate stature. And we’ll also be taking a look at some of the pathological lesions that we can see on skeletal remains, and how to diagnose and record different pathologies.
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I’m here in the human osteology lab in the archaeology department. And this is where we teach humans skeletal remains to our masters students and our undergraduate students, mostly because they’re trying to find out about the way in which people lived in the past, but the techniques that we teach are just as applicable to the forensic context. So here at Durham, we’ve also trained the police crime scene investigators, we’ve trained people from a number of international agencies who are seeking to identify individuals from mass graves from their skeletal remains, so that they can return those bodies to their loved ones. So the techniques are just the same, it’s the context that differs.
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I’ll run through the techniques for creating an osteological profile. The accuracy and reliability of this profile always depends on the preservation and completeness of the skeletal remains that you have to analyze. It also depends on the burial context as well. So for example, in a lot of mass graves, you might get a number of individuals buried within that grave and during decomposition, the skeletons may become commingled and this can also complicate analysis.

Now that we have located, recorded and recovered a body, we need to do a more in-depth analysis of the skeletal remains to establish identity and potential cause of death. This is usually best done in a laboratory setting, where there is access to good lighting and reference materials. In this video, I will introduce you to the different methods that we use to create an osteological profile from either forensic or archaeological skeletal remains.

Throughout this week, we’ll be looking at how to determine sex from skeletal remains, how to estimate age-at-death from infant and juvenile remains as well as adult skeletal remains and how to estimate stature. All of these traits can provide information crucial to providing an accurate identification.

Although we will generate this osteoprofile in a lab, away from the burial context, the accuracy and reliability of the osteoprofile profile always depend on the burial context, as well as the preservation and completeness of the skeletal remains. For example, in mass graves, you might get a number of individuals buried within a grave and during decomposition, the skeletons may become commingled and this can complicate analysis.

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Forensic Archaeology and Anthropology

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