Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2019/2020

Learning outcomes

Module 1 The course aims to provide technical-scientific skills necessary to excavate, preserve and enhance human skeletal remains retrieved from archaeological excavations. At the end of the course, the student will acquire basic knowledge about human osteology and he/she is able to understand the importance of the skeletal remains as cultural heritage for their conservation and valorization. Specifically, students will be able to recognize and classify human skeletal remains coming from archaeological sites, will be able to restore bone fragments using traditional approaches, and to reconstruct the anthropological characteristics, life conditions and health of individual specimens and ancient populations. Module 2 The course “aims to provide the scientific skills to understand the radiocarbon ‘clock’ (14C) and the expertise to interpret and build chronologies of archaeological sites, which are objects of our cultural heritage. At the end of the course, the students will have acquired basic knowledge of accurate calibration of the radiocarbon time scale (IntCal), reliable extraction of collagen from prehistoric bones and accurate AMS radiocarbon results. Moreover, they will be able to contextualize the series of events in an archeological site using the Bayesian Model in the OxCal program. Module 3 Upon completing the module 3 students will be able to: 1. Demonstrate foundational knowledge of microorganisms and organisms that grow on natural and artificial stones, including wall paintings. 2. Integrate knowledge of biology and ecology to understand the factors influencing biological complex natural systems and cycles. 3. Synthesize knowledge from biology and ecology and apply it to the study of the cultural heritage objects. 4. Understand the mechanical and chemical processes of degradation caused by the biological growth on stones. 5. Demonstrate knowledge of methods and techniques suitable to prevent and to eradicate the biological growth on stones. 6. Demonstrate basic knowledge and skills suitable for doing field studies in biology applied to the conservation of stone objects.

Course contents

Module 1: types of graves and burials; inhumation and cremation; elements of skeletal taphonomy and archaeology of death; techniques of excavation and recovery of materials; in situ observations and measurements; preparation and compilation of archaeoanthropological forms; introduction to skeletal anatomy; sex determination and age estimation; osteometry; identification and recording of anomalies and pathological and traumatic lesions of the skeleton; skeletal and dental indicators of environmental, biomechanical and nutritional stress.

Module 2:

The recent developments in radiocarbon calibration, based on internationally agreed calibration curve (IntCal) spanning back to 50,000 cal BP (calibrated ages Before Present), will be discussed in the introductory section of this module together with the basis of radiocarbon (2-7).

The methodological section of this module will focus on various experiments undertaken to establish an optimal procedure for extracting collagen from bone samples for radiocarbon dating (8-13). The main objectives of these experiments were to remove contamination from the organic bone fractions, which generally results in younger ages, and to avoid the incorporation of exogenous carbon in the laboratory through careful cleaning of the equipment. They will learn how to recognize a good quality collagen using carbon/nitrogen ration and stable isotope analysis (14-16).

The final part will be devoted to the AMS radiocarbon determinations (17, 18) together with the chronological interpretation of various archeological sites (19-25) in order to enable the students to properly read and interpret different scenarios regarding the expansion of our species, as well as the climatic episodes.

Module 3: Basic principles of biochemistry, biology and ecology; limiting factors of biological growth; morphological, structural, physiological, and reproductive characteristics of bacteria (cyanobacteria, heterotrophic bacteria, actinomycetes), algae, fungi, lichens, bryophytes, vascular plants; biofilms; mechanical and chemical processes of degradation caused by biodeteriogens; prevention of biological growth in indoor and outdoor environments; physical eradication of biodeteriogens; mechanical and water-based control methods; biocides (active ingredients, coformulates, lethal dose, lethal concentration, technical data sheet); toxicity and legislative regulations; mechanisms of antimicrobial action of biocides.


Module 1

Nikita E (2017). Osteoarchaeology: A Guide to the Macroscopic Study of Human Skeletal Remains. Elsevier Science Publishing Co Inc.


Eline M. J. Schotsmans, Nicholas Márquez‐Grant, Shari L. Forbes (editors, 2017). Taphonomy of Human Remains: Forensic Analysis of the Dead and the Depositional Environment. John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Module 2

  • P. J. Reimer et al., INTCAL04 terrestrial radiocarbon age calibration, 0–26 cal kyr BP. Radiocarbon 46, 1029–1058 (2004).
  • P. J. Reimer et al., IntCal09 and Marine09 radiocarbon age calibration curves, 0 – 50 cal kBP. Radiocarbon 51, 1111-1150 (2009).
  • P. J. Reimer et al., IntCal13 and Marine13 Radiocarbon Age Calibration Curves 0–50,000 Years cal BP. Radiocarbon 55, 1869-1887 (2013).
  • R. Longin, New method of collagen extraction for radiocarbon dating. Nature 230, 241-242 (1971).
  • T. F. G. Higham, R. M. Jacobi, C. Bronk Ramsey, AMS radiocarbon dating of ancient bone using ultrafiltration. Radiocarbon 48, 179-195 (2006).
  • F. Brock, C. Bronk Ramsey, T. Higham, Quality assurance of ultrafiltered bone dating. Radiocarbon 49, 187–192 (2007).


  • E. A. Schuur, E. Druffel, S. E. Trumbore, Radiocarbon and Climate Change: Mechanisms, Applications and Laboratory Techniques.(Springer, 2016).
  • B. Kromer et al., Late Glacial 14C ages from a floating 1382-ring pine chronology. Radiocarbon 46, 1203-1209 (2004).
  • F. Adolphi et al., Radiocarbon calibration uncertainties during the last deglaciation: Insights from new floating tree-ring chronologies. Quaternary Science Reviews 170, 98-108 (2017).
  • S. Talamo, K. A. Hughen, B. Kromer, P. J. Reimer, Debates over Palaeolithic chronology – the reliability of 14C is confirmed. Journal of Archaeological Science 39, 2464-2467 (2012).
  • T. A. Brown, D. E. Nelson, J. S. Vogel, J. R. Southon, Improved Collagen Extraction by modified Longin method. Radiocarbon 30, 171-177 (1988).
  • S. Talamo, M. Richards, A comparison of bone pretreatment methods for AMS dating of samples >30, 000 BP. Radiocarbon 53, 443-449 (2011).
  • F. Brock, V. Geoghegan, B. Thomas, K. Jurkschat, T. F. G. Higham, Analysis of Bone "Collagen" Extraction Products for Radiocarbon Dating. Radiocarbon 55, 445-463 (2013).
  • M. J. DeNiro, Postmortem preservation and alteration of in vivo bone collagen isotope ratios in relation to palaeodietary reconstruction. Nature 317, 806-809 (1985).
  • S. H. Ambrose, Preparation and Characterization of Bone and Tooth Collagen for Isotopic Analysis. Journal of Archaeological Science 17, 431-451 (1990).
  • G. J. van Klinken, Bone Collagen Quality Indicators for Palaeodietary and Radiocarbon Measurements. Journal of Archaeological Science 26, 687-695 (1999).
  • B. Kromer, S. Lindauer, H.-A. Synal, L. Wacker, MAMS – A new AMS facility at the Curt-Engelhorn-Centre for Achaeometry, Mannheim, Germany. Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Section B: Beam Interactions with Materials and Atoms 294, 11-13 (2013).
  • H. Fewlass et al., Size Matters: Radiocarbon Dates of <200 µg Ancient Collagen Samples with AixMICADAS and its Gas Ion Source. Radiocarbon, 1-15 (2017).
  • F. Welker et al., Palaeoproteomic evidence identifies archaic hominins associated with the Châtelperronian at the Grotte du Renne. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113, 11162-11167 (2016).
  • S. Talamo et al., The Radiocarbon Approach to Neanderthals in a Carnivore Den Site: a Well-Defined Chronology for Teixoneres Cave (Moià, Barcelona, Spain). Radiocarbon 58, 247-289 (2016).
  • M. A. Mannino et al., Climate-driven environmental changes around 8,200 years ago favoured increases in cetacean strandings and Mediterranean hunter-gatherers exploited them. Scientific Reports 5, 16288 (2015).
  • S. Benazzi et al., The makers of the Protoaurignacian and implications for Neandertal extinction. Science 348, 793-796 (2015).
  • S. Talamo, M. Soressi, M. Roussel, M. Richards, J.-J. Hublin, A radiocarbon chronology for the complete Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transitional sequence of Les Cottés (France). Journal of Archaeological Science 39, 175-183 (2012).
  • S. P. McPherron et al., Radiocarbon dates for the late Middle Palaeolithic at Pech de l'Azé IV, France. Journal of Archaeological Science 39, 3436-3442 (2012).
  • J.-J. Hublin et al., Radiocarbon dates from the Grotte du Renne and Saint-Césaire support a Neandertal origin for the Châtelperronian. PNAS 109, 18743-18748 (2012).

Module 3

Caneva G, Nugari MP, Salvadori O (editors) (2008). Plant Biology for Cultural Heritage: Biodeterioration and Conservation. The Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles, USA.

Pinna D. (2017) Coping with biological growth on stone heritage objects: methods, products, applications, and perspectives. Apple Academic Press, Waretown, USA.

Teaching methods

Module 1: The course consists of frontal lectures related to the topics of the programme that can be supplemented by seminars on specific topics. During the course PowerPoint presentations will be used, which will be supplied to the students by means of dedicated online platforms. Finally, students will have the opportunity to undertake practical laboratory exercises, involving the application of osteological techniques to materials retrieved from archaeological excavations, and the analysis and interpretation of data using suitable computer programs.

Module 2:

The course consists of frontal lectures related to the topics of the programme that can be supplemented by seminars on specific topics. During the course PowerPoint presentations will be used, which will be supplied to the students by means of dedicated online platforms.

In the first part, the radiocarbon method is outlined. The present state of the calibration of the radiocarbon time scale is presented focusing on the recent extension and consolidation back to 50,000 years ago. An overview of measurement techniques is given, with an emphasis on AMS as the main radiocarbon measurement technique in use today.

The focus of the second part is how to obtain the most reliable ages from bone samples from archaeological sites. Bone from archaeological context is the preferred material to obtain dates, especially when compared to charcoal, but it presents challenges due to its open structure. In the past decade, it has become apparent that the traditional pretreatment methods are insufficient for very old bone samples, because they may not be capable of removing modern contamination to a satisfactory level. The quantitative aspect of what the addition of a level of modern contaminant 14C contribution would be will be shown and development of new techniques including the use of ultrafiltration will be discussed. The protocol of lab procedures is presented in detail.

Last but not least, the module will be devoted to discussing the chronology of various archeological sites, using Oxcal program in Internet.

Module 3: The course includes frontal lectures with PowerPoint presentations and videos. Furthermore, the course includes laboratory sessions for practical experience. The laboratory practice consists of sampling of different biodeteriogens; observation of samples under the stereomicroscope; making a cross-section of the samples; observation of cross-sections and glass slides under the optical microscope; observation of Petri dishes and microbiological colonies.

Assessment methods

Students must take an oral exam for each of the three modules. The final vote is based on the scientific and methodological knowledge of the student on the arguments discussed during the three exams. Moreover, correct use of language, coupled with critical examination of the covered topics and interdisciplinary linkage, will be also evaluated.

Students not attending. The program of the course is the same for both students attending and not attending. Owing to the nature of the course, frequency of the lessons is strongly recommended. However, students who for valid reasons cannot attend the course are invited to contact the teachers, during the office hours, for the suggestion of potential supplementary texts.

Teaching tools

Module 1: Lectures will be given with the assistance of traditional supports, as well as slide and computer projections. Laboratory exercises will be carried out with suitable materials and instruments.

Module 2:

Lectures will be given with the assistance of traditional supports, as well as slide and computer projections. It should be an internet connection in order to have access to the OxCal online program:



Module 3: Videoprojector; visit to a monument located in Ravenna; scientific materials and instruments.

Office hours

See the website of Stefano Benazzi

See the website of Sahra Talamo

See the website of Daniela Pinna