Osteology: The Science of Bones
Wikipedia defines osteology as “the scientific study of bones. A subdiscipline of anthropology and archeology, osteology is a detailed study of the structure of bones, skeletal elements, teeth, morphology, function, disease, pathology, the process of ossification (from cartilaginous molds), the resistance and hardness of bones (biophysics), etc. Often used by scientists with identification of human remains with regard to age, death, sex, growth, and development in a biocultural context.”
In an archaeological context, this means gaining as much information as possible from any human remains that may be excavated. This website, by a professional osteo-archaeologist, gives a good overview of why we excavate human remains and what type of information can be obtained from them.
The chapel at Poulton is surrounded by a graveyard. As a consequence, we have excavated approaching 400 human skeletons during the course of the project. The Poulton team does not have the resources to undertake full skeletal examinations but we do produce the basic information of age at death, sex and height at death. The procedures and methodology we use are described in the Project’s Skeleton Manual (PDF, 3.2 MBytes).
Once that work is complete, all the skeletal material goes to our academic partners at the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University for more detailed and specialised analysis. Human remains are the most direct evidence available as to how people lived and died in the past, and their scientific study makes a key contribution to medical history and to forensic science, as well as helping to reconstruct the demography of earlier populations. Genetic relationships can be determined from the analysis of DNA, and this will play an increasingly vital role in understanding the people who lived, worked and died in the Poulton area. Other types of analysis can identify patterns of disease, help to determine the activities undertaken by individuals or groups of people, and reveal various aspects of their diet.
Eventually all the material will be reburied at the Cistercian monastery at Mount St. Bernard in Leicestershire, England.
Three reports on the human material from Poulton have been published so far:
A formal report by Dr. Charlotte Roberts on the skeleton used in the BBC’s “Meet the Ancestors” programme.
A formal report on the analysis of all the human skeletal material from the 1995 thro' 2002 seasons (PDF, 1.2 Mbytes).
A more accessible article written for the general reader on excavating human remains. It contains some of the same information as the formal report in a little less detail (PDF, 850 Kbytes).
Skeletons in the Cupboard: What a Human Bone Specialist can tell from your Bones. http://www.spoilheap.co.uk/hsrspec.htm.
Digging Up People: Guidelines for Excavation and Processing of Human Skeletal Remains. http://www.spoilheap.co.uk/digbone.htm
Guidance for Best Practice for Treatment of Human Remains Excavated from Christian Burial Grounds in England. English Heritage, Swindon and http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/upload/pdf/16602_HumanRemains1.pdf
British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology (BABAO). http://www.babao.org.uk/
BABAO Code of Ethics for
Archaeological Human Remains.
© 2000-2009 The Poulton Research Project