Forensic Taphonomy - SACO8150

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2022 to 2023
Spring Term 7 15 (7.5) Devin Finaughty checkmark-circle


This module is fundamental to this MSc where students learn various stages of post-mortem decay to human remains, focusing largely on environmental effects—including decomposition in soil and interaction with plants, insects, and other animals. Other topics covered are; PMI methods (time elapsed since death), biotaphonomy, and geotaphonomy.


Contact hours

Total contact hours: 22
Private study hours: 128
Total study hours: 150


MSc Forensic Osteology and Field Recovery Methods

Method of assessment

Essay (3000 words) (50%)
Taphonomic Report (20%)
Poster & Presentation (30%)

Reassessment methods: Like for Like. Students failing unrepeatable elements (both the essay (50%) AND Taphonomic Report (20%) may only retrieve credit by repeating the entire module.

Indicative reading

Reading list (Indicative list, current at time of publication. Reading lists will be published annually)

Haglund, W. D., & Sorg, M. H. (Eds.). (1996). Forensic taphonomy: the postmortem fate of human remains. CRC Press

Haglund, W. D., & Sorg, M. H. (Eds.). (2001). Advances in forensic taphonomy: method, theory, and archaeological perspectives. CRC Press.

Pokines, J., & Symes, S. A. (Eds.). (2013). Manual of forensic taphonomy. CRC Press.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes. On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

8.1 Understand decomposition from both a chemical and gross morphological perspective.
8.2 demonstrate a systematic knowledge of how environmental conditions affect human decomposition.
8.3 demonstrate a systematic knowledge of how to calculate post-mortem interval (PMI).
8.4 demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of how specific combinations of environmental conditions, and cultural and social traditions, can change the rate and trajectory of taphonomic processes.
8.5 Recognise taphonomic patterns and artefacts which are useful for medicolegal interpretation of death scenes.
8.6 Reflect on the ethics of working with human remains in investigative and research environments.
8.7 Critically appraise the contemporary research effort in forensic taphonomy.

The intended generic learning outcomes. On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

9.1. critically evaluate and problem solve;
9.2. organise and present information in a clear and concise manner;
9.3. demonstrate advanced development of laboratory and practical skills;
9.4. demonstrate further development of communication by a variety of methods.


  1. Credit level 7. Undergraduate or postgraduate masters level module.
  2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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