Online course: Osteoarchaeology: The Truth in Our Bones

Dates: any time

Duration: 27 hours

Rating: 4.7 / 5.0 out of 391 ratings (see top rating courses here)

Participating countries: any country

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Organizer: Universiteit Leiden at Coursera


  • FREE
  • $49 with sharable certificate

Osteoarchaeology: The Truth in Our Bones

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:


WEEK 1: 2 hours to complete

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!

Welcome to the Course! – Trailer
Welcome to the Course! – Course Introduction
Course Set-Up
How to succeed in your online class?
Meet the Instructors & Team
Leiden University: Facts & Figures
Complete our short survey
Basic Anatomical Terminology
Names of Bones in the Skeleton
Human Skeleton – Learn the Basics
What is your learning path?
Community Guidelines

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!

Subadult Age-at-Death Estimation
Adult Age-at-Death Estimation
Sex Estimation
Stature Reconstruction
Discussion: How to?
Longbone Length to Estimate Subadult Age
Dental Formation to Estimate Subadult Age
Pubic Symphysis to Estimate Adult Age
Auricular Surface to Estimate Adult Age
Using the Phenice Traits to Estimate Sex
Using Longbone Length to Estimate Stature
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.

Instructions: Solve the Mystery

WEEK 2: 4 hours to complete

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.

Paleopathology: Introduction
Paleopathology: Bone biology
Paleopathology: Trauma
Paleopatholgy: Rickets
Paleopathology: Leprosy
Discussion 1, Violence
Discussion 2, Modern Medicine
Examples of Bone Fractures
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.

WEEK 3: 2 hours to complete

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.

Paleodiet: Introduction
Paleodiet: Principles of Stable Isotope Analysis
Paleodiet: Stable Isotope Case Study
Discusion: The “Paleodiet” Trend

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.

WEEK 4: 3 hours to complete

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.

Activity: Introduction
Activity: the Musculoskeletal System
Activity: Entheseal Changes
Activity: Joint Degeneration
Activity: Teeth as Tools
Activity: Discussion
Scoring Entheseal Change

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.

WEEK 5: 3 hours to complete

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.

Mobility and Migration: Introduction
Mobility and Migration: Long Bone Morphology
Mobility and Migration: Strontium Isotopes
Mobility and Migration: Ancient DNA
Mobility and Migration: Discussion
Thank You and Good Luck! :)

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.