Apolline Project

illuminating the dark side of Vesuvius

Study Human Bones


The Necropolis of Aeclanum

Multiple cemeteries have been excavated just outside the Roman city of Aeclanum, with the resulting skeletal assemblage consisting of an estimated total of some 1,700 individuals spanning from at least the 1st to 7th centuries AD. Located in a densely interconnected trade corridor and even intersected by the ancient Via Appia itself, Aeclanum is an invaluable laboratory for testing hypotheses about changing importation, production and consumption trends during a time when the region was besieged by natural disasters, plague, famine as well as invasion and warfare. Perhaps the most tangible clues about the inhabitants’ quality of live during this tumultuous period can be derived from their very skeletal remains. When jointly considered, the skeletal assemblages of Aeclanum have the potential to inform us of how the lives of its inhabitants may have changed over time due to the aforementioned conditions; their remains may also offer us more intimate glimpses into their lives: what did the people of ancient Aeclanum typically eat, what diseases did they suffer from and to what extent was their local population infiltrated by others? Tantalising clues to these questions have been left behind in their bones and teeth, we only need to interpret them.

Two-week course in human osteology

For those interested in learning how to interpret a historic skeletal assemblage, the Apolline Project offers a two-week intensive bootcamp in human osteology. Students will be instructed and immersed in the practical application of techniques used to correctly analyse human remains and will play an integral role in helping to better understand the collection of Aeclanum. In general, days will begin with a formal lecture (1-2.5 hours) pertaining to one specific area in human osteology. Students will then apply what they have learned in practical, hands on exercises using the actual bones of the collection. Lessons will provide a comprehensive overview to human osteology, and will give a regional context by introducing local case studies. Lessons may also be combined with trips to nearby sites. Days will also typically include 45 minutes to 1.5 hours of cleaning bones to allow for further study.

Skills that students will acquire upon completion of this course include: bone identification, side identification, fragment identification, determination of sex, determination of age at death, identification of basic bone and dental pathologies, cleaning and proper curation of a collection, interpretation of basic isotopic data to determine dietary and migratory patterns, identification of juvenile skeletal remains, determining the minimum number of individuals in a commingled context, calculation of robusticity, and determination of stature from long bone measurements using various regression formulae. Group discussions will be held on the ethics and legislation governing the procurement, study, and display of human remains in different countries around the world. Student progress will be informally assessed by several practical quizzes administered over the duration of the course, one article critique presentation on stable isotope analysis, as well as a final cumulative assessment.

Tentative Lesson Schedule (subject to change and adjustment)

Day 1
Lesson: Introduction to human osteology
Practical: full skeleton layout
Practical: Landmarks of the cranium

Day 2
Lesson: Determining Sex
Practical: Determining Sex
Practical: Landmarks of the pelvic girdle

Day 3
Lesson: Determining Age
Practical: Determining Age

Day 4
Lesson: Teeth. Identification, growth and development, dental pathology
Practical: Tooth identification
Practical: Scoring dental pathology

Day 5
Lesson A: Regional Applications
Practical: Landmarks of the upper limb
Practical: Review of week 1 topics

Day 6
Lesson: Paleodietary analysis: Carbon and Nitrogen isotopes; Ancient Migration and Mobility: Strontium and Oxygen isotopes
Practical: Landmarks of the lower limb
Practical: Landmarks of the Shoulder Girdle
Practical: Hands and feet

Day 7
Lesson: Palaeopathology
Practical: Pathology examples
Practical: Taking measurements (anthropometrics) and estimating stature
Practical: Hands and feet

Day 8
Student Presentations: Stable Isotope Precis/Critique of chosen article
Practical: Determining Minimum Number of Individuals from commingled remains

Day 9
Lesson/Discussion: Ethics and Legislation
Practical: Analyzing a full skeleton

Day 10
Student Presentations of biological profiles of assigned skeletons

Taking part

The workshops run from July 30 to August 10 and from August 20 to August 31, 2018. The contribution to participate is 650EUR for 2 weeks.
The final deadline for applications is June 20th and those who apply will find out if they have been successful within three weeks of their application as acceptances to the program are rolling. Please consider that places are very limited, therefore we encourage you to submit your application earlier rather than later.

Application process

The application process is easy and straightforward. Please follow this link and complete the electronic application.

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