Osteoarchaeology

Excavation of the long bones of several individuals from the Queen's Chapel site in Savoy, London

Archaeology South East have a team of dedicated ostearchaeologists providing both on and off site advise with regards to best practice for the successful excavation and retrieval of human remains, through to the handling, cleaning and processing of the skeletal material. This ensures that the remains are treated with respect and that they retain all possible information, facilitating any subsequent analysis.

The involvement of osteoarchaeologists from the start of a project guarantees that the methodologies used during the archaeological work follow all necessary guidelines and maintain professional standards.

On site

Projects that can involve osteoarchaeologists range from small scale watching briefs in churchyards to large scale cemetery excavations or clearances and can include inhumations, cremations as well as disturbed or isolated disarticulated bones. As well as overseeing the excavation, recording and recovery of all skeletons uncovered, an on-site osteoarchaeologist can ensure that all necessary care and attention is given to any skeletons that raise particular questions or problems such as those poorly preserved or with pathological conditions. In addition, any health and safety issues that arise when dealing with human remains can be quickly recognised and addressed.

Of course, unexpected human remains are sometimes encountered during archaeological work. In these instances the osteoarchaeologist is able to quickly assess whether the excavation team have uncovered human or animal remains. Quick identification means that the archaeological work should not be unduly delayed or hindered and any necessary procedures can be implemented quickly.

Post excavation

Once the human remains have been recovered from site the osteoarchaeologist will carry out post-excavation assessment and analysis, the scale of which may be tailored to fit a particular project.

A basic assessment will obtain information with regards to age and sex of each individual as well as the presence or absence of disease. The value of the data and its ability to provide more detailed information about the buried population will also be assessed and this will depend, amongst other things, upon the population size and state of preservation.

Any subsequent analysis will use the data to produce a demographic profile of the population as well as a study of population health. More detailed analyses, which can include a more detailed examination of pathological conditions, cranial and post-cranial measurements and a study of post-metric traits, are carried out when necessary. The end result will be the production of post-excavation assessment or publication reports.

The osteoarchaeologist is also able to advise on the necessity and practicality of further scientific analysis such as radiocarbon dating, DNA or isotope analysis and facilitate this work if necessary.

Recent project s have included large scale medieval to post-medieval cemetery excavations both in Chichester, West Sussex and in Queens Chapel of the Savoy, Westminster, London. The later excavation saw the recovery of 607 well preserved skeletons dating from the 16th to the 19th century.


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General Contact: Lucy Siburn

Page last modified on 11 aug 14 16:07