73783 - Anthropology and Biology Applied to Cultural Heritage

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2020/2021

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course the student will acquire basic knowledge about human evolution, the human fossil record, and prehistoric cultures. In particular, students will have an overview about problems related to the study of the human skeletal remains, and he/she is able to understand their importance as cultural heritage for their conservation and valorization. Moreover, the student will acquire knowledge on the biodeterioration processes linked to the growth of organisms on natural and artificial surfaces within the framework of the cultural heritage. By means of laboratory activities, students will examine technical aspects related to control, monitoring and intervention against the biodeteriogens.

Course contents

The course is arranged in three main parts: a first part that provides an overview of human evolution, of the archaeoanthropological materials, conditions and techniques of excavation and recovery of human remains, basic knowledge of skeletal anatomy; a second part aiming at providing theoretical/practical information about biodeterioration processes that affect various materials and methods to deal with biodeteriogens; a third part to learn the restoration techniques of skeletal remains, the methodological/technique skills for 3D acquisition and digital reconstruction of the human remains for virtual restoration, ultimately obtaining 3D digital models useful for scientific analysis, 3D prototyping, enhancement and exhibition

Part 1 – Human evolution and osteoarchaeological remains: basic of human evolution; skeletal human remains; types of graves and burials; inhumation graves; incineration remains; elements of skeletal taphonomy and archaeology of death; techniques of excavation and recovery of the human remains; in situ observations, measurements; filling archaeoanthropological forms; skeletal and dental anatomy; determination of sex and estimation of age-at-death.

Part 2 – Materials biodeterioration: causative organisms and metabolic aspects causing material alterations; cellular organization: procaryotes and eucaryotes, the plant cell; main characteristics of anatomy, growth and reproduction of algae, fungi and land plants; colonization strategy and specific changes caused to the substrate; monitoring and possible prevention and control actions.

Part 3 – The restoration of human skeletal remains: sampling for genetic and isotope analysis; sediment removal; marking bones; restoring contacts between fragmented bones; measures taken to consolidate bones; integrating missing portions; documenting the restoration; 3D scan of bone fragments; point clouds alignment and construction of the 3D digital model (mesh); (micro)-CT image data segmentation/visualization and surface (mesh) generation; software for post-processing of the mesh (cleaning, healing defects and mesh optimization); alignment of the 3D digital models of the bone fragments for virtual restoration; virtual reconstruction of missing portions.


Slides of the lessons

S. Minozzi, A. Canci. Archeologia dei resti umani. Dallo scavo al laboratorio. Carocci ed., Roma, 2015.

Benazzi S, Gruppioni G. Antropologia virtuale. Mallegni F., Lippi B., editors. NON OMNIS MORIAR. CISU, Roma, 2009, pp. 425-460.

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



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

Teaching methods

The course is based on lectures dealing with the program’s topics, coupled with practical training in the Laboratory of Osteoarchaeology and Paleoanthropology of the Department of Cultural Heritage for the restoration of human skeletal remains, as well as lectures/training in digital restoration using suitable computer programs (e.g., Geomagic Design X).

Assessment methods

The final exam consists in an oral examination on the whole programme, which can be sustained from the first useful scheduled exam after the end of the lessons, concerning the topics indicated in the course programme, as well as an evaluation of the activities carried out during the practical part of the course. The student must prove that he has acquired scientific knowledge on various topics and that he/she has fully mastered the technical and methodological tools, both theoretically and practically, of the restoration of human remains.

At the begin of the exam, the student may propose to discuss about a specific topic, followed by further questions aimed at verifying the overall preparation.

The final grade will depend not only on the degree of scientific and methodological depth of the topics covered and on the evaluation of the practical activity, but also on the language properties of the student and on the ability to sustain a critical, reasoned analysis, with any interdisciplinary connections.

Students not attending.

Attendance of classes is highly recommended given the nature of the course, however, students who cannot attend for valid reasons are invited to contact the teacher, during reception hours, for the suggestion of the necessary supplementary texts.

Teaching tools

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, among which 3D scanner and software for post-processing, segmentation and visualization of 3D image data. Botany laboratory activity comprises wall surface sampling, growth tests on culture media, microscope and live organisms observations.

Office hours

See the website of Stefano Benazzi

See the website of Gregorio Oxilia

See the website of Rossella Pistocchi