Human Osteoarchaeology in the Netherlands

By Anna Moles, Associate Editor for Bioarchaeology

For the Women's Issue of the SAS bulletin, I would like to write from a somewhat personal viewpoint, about the growing strength of osteoarchaeology in the Netherlands and the central role of the talented women involved in the discipline on an international stage. 

My experience of human osteoarchaeology has always been dominated by women, since my MSc at the University of Edinburgh where our class of 20 women and 2 men was taught by an all-female team. Having recently moved to the Netherlands, and as I begin to acquaint myself with the archaeological scene here, I was struck not only by the growing strength of the discipline there and also by the numerous interesting projects and initiatives going on, but also by the fact these roles are again largely held by women. Part of my job is to introduce human osteoarchaeology into the curriculum at the University of Groningen, strengthening its already very well-established bioarchaeology teaching, with world-leading collections and research in zooarchaeology and archaeobotany. The establishment of a reference collection and laboratory, as well as the strong connection with the Centre for Isotope Research, makes the Groningen Institute of Archaeology an attractive option for PhD and postdoctoral projects.

The Faculty of Archaeology at Leiden University has long been a global front-runner in the field, with human osteoarchaeology being a strength within the Archaeological Sciences department. The Laboratory for Human Osteology and Funerary Archaeology, led by Dr Sarah Schrader, is home to a wealth of research projects and affiliated researchers. The teaching staff, headed up by Schrader and Dr Rachel Schats, offer opportunities for students to become acquainted with the discipline not only at bachelor’s level but also with a one-year Human Osteoarchaeology track in the Masters in Archaeological Science. Leiden’s Laboratory for Human Osteoarchaeology examines human remains and their burial context to address questions about the human past, employing not only macroscopic skeletal analysis but also biomolecular techniques, including isotopic, paleoparasitic, and palaeohormonal approaches. 

In Amsterdam too, there is innovative osteoarchaeological work being carried out, including within Lisette Kootker's Isotope Archaeology and Forensics Groups of the Department of Earth Sciences at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. At the University of Amsterdam, Liesbeth Smits conducts research in mortuary studies and osteoarchaeology and provides opportunities for students to learn about forensic archaeology and physical anthropology. The Vrije University’s Department of Geology and Geochemistry was recently awarded a major grant from the Dutch Research Council (NWO) to set up a new isotope laboratory, the Netherlands state-of-the-art Isotope GEochemistry Laboratory (NIGeL), which also involves partners from University of Groningen, Utrecht University, Leiden University, the Rijksmuseum, and the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI).

The Netherlands Association for Physical Anthropology (Nederlandse Vereniging voor Fysische Antropologie - NVFA), currently chaired by Hayley Mickleburgh, has over 80 members from diverse scientific backgrounds across a range of specialisms with the fields of forensic anthropology, evolution biology, archaeological skeletal research, growth and development, and other areas. This is an active group which organises an annual meeting with guest lecture, a spring excursion, and a symposium of lectures each year, as well as a newsletter, FAME (Fysische Antropologische MEdedelingen). Past editions of the FAME Newsletter are available through the NVFA website for those further interested in the activities in this field in recent years.

Interested in pursuing a PhD or post doc in the Netherlands? Keep an eye out for advertised positions, look at the funding options offered by the Dutch Research Council (NWO), or other funding options such as a Marie Skłodowska-Curie postdoctoral fellowship.