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Forensic Taphonomy

Forensic taphonomy studies the environmental effects of decomposing cadaveric material. It mainly combines knowledge from archaeology and forensic science, the science that deals with traces like DNA to reconstruct events from the past. Taphonomy is the study of fossilization from organic remains. The combination of both sciences in this minor is quite unique.

In the minor Forensic taphonomy you will follow lectures and courses in decomposition, specifically on the application for forensic science. The focus lies on the decomposition of human remains. However, the acquired knowledge will be applied at the Forensic Anthropological Outdoor Research Facility in Den Ham (Overijssel, NL) on cadaveric material from pigs (Sus scrofa dom.). You will study the decomposition of cadavers over the course of twenty weeks, analyse your data and write a field analysis report.

During the first part of the minor you will collect literature on a topic of your own choice, write an annotation and present the topic to the class. You will write a research proposal for an applied taphonomic study on an identified knowledge lacuna.

The second part of the minor consists of a taphonomic experiment. For instance on the research proposal you wrote before. You will set up the experiment yourself. You will complete this minor with a research thesis. 

Added Value:

This minor that combines knowledge from archaeology and forensic science, is a niche subject. Interesting for students with either an archaeological or biological background and an interest in forensic science. The minor offers them hands-on experience and knowledge on the taphonomic changes in cadaveric material. Students will participate in a large research group and learn how to set-up their own experiment. Notable also is that further education on this topic at home and abroad, is limited, especially of this volume (30 ects).


After this course the student has/is able to:
• Insight in the value and complexity of taphonomic studies.
• Knowledge of the process of decomposition of the human body.
• Knows the effects of in- and external variables on the process of decomposition.
• Describe the process of decomposition objectively, document it according to the guidelines, analyze and interpret changes.
• Determine the state of remains based on internationally accepted models.
• Identify possible knowledge lacunae in literature, based on acquired knowledge, and write a research proposal.
• Set up a taphonomic experiment, execute it and report the results.
• Make microscopic slides from bone.


Propaedeutic certificate achieved.

Biomedical science, biotechnology, forensic science, archeology, biology.

Provide documents for entry requirements: Propedeutic diploma.

This minor allows for 25 students in total: there are 5 reserved spaces for external students. In case the 5 reserved spaces are full you will be added to the waiting list and informed about enrollment after closure of the admission term.


  • Mandatory: Forensic Taphonomy, the post-mortem fate of human remains, by William D. Haglund & Marcella H. Sorg. 
  • Advised: Manual of Forensic Taphonomy, by James T. Pokines & Steven A. Symes.(2014) 


Lectures: 46 hours
Self-study: 150 hours
Presentation: 10 hours

Field study: 70 hours
Workshops: 32 hours
Field analysis report: 112 hours

Research proposal
Annotation: 20 hours
Literature study: 140 hours
Report: 64 hours

Literature study: 66 hours
Methodology: 12 hours
Execution: 80 hours
Report: 32 hours
Presentation: 6 hours


• Field analysis report, individual essay.
• Research proposal, individual essay
• Exam Taphonomy, individual exam, closed book

Rating scale: Grade (one decimal)

Aanvullende informatie

Nesessities: Proper work clothing and gear.