module specification

BE6008 - Inferences from Biological Remains (2024/25)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2024/25
Module title Inferences from Biological Remains
Module level Honours (06)
Credit rating for module 30
School School of Human Sciences
Total study hours 300
228 hours Guided independent study
72 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Coursework 35%   Poster
Unseen Examination 40%   Online Unseen Exam (90 minutes)
Coursework 25%   Summary of a Journal Article
Running in 2024/25

(Please note that module timeslots are subject to change)
Period Campus Day Time Module Leader
Autumn semester North Tuesday Afternoon
Autumn semester North Tuesday Morning

Module summary

This module examines the role played by the various branches within the field of forensic science and the potential inferences that can be found from biological remains. Amongst other concepts and techniques in forensic investigation taphonomy, palynology, archaeology and entomology will be explored.

The aims of this module are aligned with the qualification descriptors within the Quality Assurance Agency’s, Framework for Higher Education Qualifications.

This module aims to provide students with an interdisciplinary approach to the forensic inferences gathered from biological remains. The module introduces the role of pollen in forensic investigations and allows students to examine the provenance of sediment and its depositional characteristics. The use of invertebrates in forensic science will be explored, particularly for ageing cadavers. The module also reviews the role of serological and DNA analysis in the context of forensic investigations. Students will also examine osteological factors and characterisation. Ethical issues will be discussed throughout the module with particular reference to the excavation, study and reburial of human skeletons.

This module aims to provide students with the qualities and transferable skills necessary for employment requiring: the exercise of initiative and personal responsibility; decision-making in complex and unpredictable contexts; and, the learning ability needed to undertake appropriate further training of a professional or equivalent nature.

Prior learning requirements

BE5065 and BE5066


The information provided in lectures, tutorials and workshops will be based on the following areas:
- sedimentology: principles of weathering, transportation and deposition, mineralogy as a forensic tool.
- palynology: the principles and techniques of pollen retrieval and identification and its role in forensic investigations.
- osteology: introduction to the anatomy and physiology of bone, identification of components of the skeleton. Osteological and dental pathology, post-mortem skeletal alterations, assessment of age, sex, stature, ancestry, identity and bioarchaeology of burial sites.
- entomology: the role of insects and arthropods that inhabit decomposing remains, emphasising how the knowledge of life cycles and successions of necrophagous insects may be used to determine time of death of cadavers.
- DNA analysis: the role of DNA techniques in the identification of individuals, gender, ancestral population, disease profiles and familial relationships.
- Disaster Victim Identification.

Balance of independent study and scheduled teaching activity

Students’ knowledge and understanding of Inferences from Biological Remains will be developed through an integrated programme of lectures supported by case studies, tutorials and directed exercises.

Lectures will be used to provide a conceptual framework whilst supporting tutorials and practical sessions will be used to expand knowledge using case studies and problem-based approaches. Guest lecturers are invited to enhance the module and maintain current practice within the field as well as to discuss employability.

Students will be expected to reflect upon taught material in order to demonstrate their understanding of how forensic inferences can be made from biological remains.  The remainder of the time allocated will be used for self-directed learning. 

This module is supported by a web based VLE (WebLearn) which will be used to reinforce and test student understanding with access to additional learning resources.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module students will be able to:

1. assess the importance of the environmental context in forensic science, as provided, for example, by sediments and pollen grains;
2. discriminate between the principal components of the human skeleton and demonstrate knowledge of skeletal features that allow age, sex and stature to be determined;
3. consider how DNA samples may be obtained and show an awareness of the factors affecting DNA analysis in forensic investigations;
4. consider taphonomic processes; entomological succession and the role of invertebrates in forensic science;
5. evaluate the ethical issues in dealing with biological evidence; databases and human remains;
6. demonstrate transferable skills including those of employability and professional practice.