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They attract great interest from researchers as well as museum visitors and there is now a wealth of methods for studying them, ranging from osteology to cutting-edge scientific techniques such as ancient DNA (aDNA) and isotopic analysis. These approaches provide valuable insights into how people lived and died.
This resource, created in partnership with Historic Environment Scotland, focuses on Scottish archaeological collections of human remains resulting from recent and historic excavations though many of the topics will apply more broadly.
[Content warning: This page and linked resources contain images and descriptions of archaeological human remains.]
The videos are intended to assist those working in the museum and heritage sector to:
A list of resources is provided for further reading.
Advisory Panel on the Archaeology of Burials in England (APABE)
British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology (BABAO)
DCMS Guidance for the care of Human Remains in Museums [pdf]
Historic Scotland (2006) The Treatment of Human Remains in Archaeology
The Institute of Conservation (ICON) Guidance on Ethical sampling
The Institute of Conservation (ICON) Ethical Sampling Guidance Flowchart
Museums Galleries Scotland: Introduction to Human Remains in Museums
BABAO: Photographing human remains infographic [pdf]
BABAO (2019): Guidance Document on Digital Imaging [pdf]
Brickley, M. & McKinley, J.I. (eds) 2004. Guidelines to the standards for recording human remains [pdf]
Mays, S. 2018. The Role of the Human Osteologist in an Archaeological Fieldwork Project
Mitchell, P.D. & Brickley, M. (eds) 2017. Updated Guidelines to the Standards for Recording Human Remains [pdf]
Roberts, C.A. & O’Connell, B. 2004. Guidance on recording palaeopathology, in Guidelines to the standards for recording human remains. Reading: British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology and Institute of Field Archaeologists, pp. 34-39. IFA papers (7)
Adams, S. [Twitter thread]: A Guide to Radiocarbon Dating
Advisory Panel on the Archaeology of Burials in England (2016): Science and the Dead. A guideline for the destructive sampling of archaeological human remains for scientific analysis [pdf]
Booth, T. 2020. (interview, Youtube) Am I related to a Viking? The Reliability of Genetic Ancestry Testing
Callaway, E. 2018. Divided by DNA: The uneasy relationship between archaeology and ancient genomics. Nature 555, 573-576
The Coop Lab, University of California, Davis: Where did your genetic ancestors come from?
Mathieson I. & Scally, A. 2020. What is ancestry? PLoS Genetics 16(3): e1008624
Reich, D. 2021 (lecture, Youtube) Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
Sawchuk, E. & Prendergast, M. 2019. Ancient DNA is a powerful tool for studying the past – when archaeologists and geneticists work together
SUERC Radiocarbon laboratory, University of Glasgow
University of Reading: What is stable isotope analysis?
Archaeology Vlog: 'Trams to Newhaven' (Youtube video series, 2020-2022)
Booth, T. 2020. Cheddar Man | Prehistoric Boundaries & Migrations – INTERVIEW
Foreign Countries podcast, with Linda Fibiger, Angela Boyle and Elin Ahlin Sundman (2021): An Osteoarchaeology of Violence & Trauma in the European Past: SE1. Special Episode: An Osteoarchaeology of Violence & Trauma in the European Past (podbean.com)
Mara Karell: Learning from the dead: why do archaeologists excavate, move and analyse human remains?
Sheridan, A. & Brown, L. (presented by Angela Boyle) 2018 (Youtube) DNA analysis of ancient individuals found in Scotland.
Viking Genes Unravelled. Discussion with Cat Jarman from the History Extra podcast (2020)
Giesen, M. (ed.) 2013. Curating Human Remains. Caring for the Dead in the United Kingdom. Boydell & Brewer.
Mays, S. 2021. The Archaeology of Human Bones. London: Routledge.
Roberts, C.A. 2009. Human Remains in Archaeology: A Handbook. Council for British Archaeology.
Sayer, D. 2010. Ethics and Burial Archaeology. Bloomsbury.
White, T.D. & Folkens, P.A. 2005. The Human Bone Manual. Elsevier Academic Press.