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The excavation of human burials is a sensitive undertaking that must be carried out with utmost professionalism. Specialized bioarchaeological training is essential to ensure that human burials are uncovered, documented, and removed properly, that is, without damaging the remains or destroying precious information. However, unless they have specialized in the excavation of human remains, even professional archaeologists may not always be up to the task.

This field-based program was developed specifically for advanced students and CRM professionals interested in furthering their professional training by acquiring bioarchaeological skills and experience.

By working in small groups, side-by-side with IRLAB’s professional team, participants will have the opportunity to excavate burials from start to finish. Upon completion of the program, participants will have learned how to properly identify, excavate, document, and remove human burials in archaeological context.

September 17 – October 12, 2018


Upon completion of the program, participants will have become familiar with the following major components of human burial excavation, and related learning objectives:

  • Stratigraphic interpretation of human burials
    • Learn how to identify burial cuts.
    • Understand the stratigraphic relations between adjacent contexts.
    • Interpret the different components of a burial and the distinct funerary behavioral actions they represent.
  • Bioarchaeological excavation techniques
    • Become familiar with the proper methods, tools, and techniques for excavating the different components of human burials, with a focus on exposing skeletal remains while minimizing bone destruction and information loss.
    • Learn how to interpret taphonomic processes from the examination of the skeletal elements in the field.
    • Learn how to conduct basic analyses of the remains in situ to develop a preliminary biological profile in the field;
    • Learn how to efficiently remove skeletal elements and maximize their preservation for study.
  • State-of-the-art documentation of human burials
    • Learn how to collect spatial information on human burials using a total station and GIS.
    • Learn the proper documentation protocols through the use of IRLAB’s dedicated Stratigraphic Unit and Skeletal Context sheets.
    • Become familiar with the criteria for properly photographing skeletal contexts and the methods for developing 3D reconstructions of human burials using photogrammetry.
  • Theoretical approaches and ethical considerations related to the excavation of human remains
    • Become familiar with the different theoretical approaches in bioarchaeology, and understand how they influence the excavation of burial grounds.
    • Understand the different circumstances and reasons for excavating human remains, to inform the excavation strategy and research approaches.



Excavations will take place at the Harrison Township Cholera Cemetery (HTCC), located just 20 minutes away from downtown Columbus, OH. The site is the object of an ongoing project with the aim of excavating, studying, and restoring an abandoned historic cemetery. Learn more…

Excavation will take place daily, Monday through Friday, between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm, with a short lunch break. All participants will be required to attend a general orientation at the beginning of the program, and daily briefings in the morning prior to starting fieldwork. IRLAB does not provide meals, lodging or transportation as part of this program, and participants are expected to make their own arrangements.

Participants who would require to make lodging arrangements may benefit from IRLAB’s negotiated group rates at the Woodspring Suites Columbus Urbancrest in Grove City, OH. Simply indicate your interest in the online application or contact David Hubin, Project Manager, anytime upon admission.



Participation in the program will provide participants with exposure to all of the elements of human burial excavation outlined in the Learning Objectives of the program.  In order to accommodate the needs of professional schedules, this program is organized in two distinct, additive modules. Each module may be taken as a stand-alone program, although both modules combined provide the best training and experience. Individuals interested in acquiring bioarchaeological experience to serve in leading roles in the recovery of human remains should participate in both modules.

Stratigraphy and Taphonomy

September 17 – 30

This module is focused on the general setup of a bioarchaeological excavation, with emphasis on understanding the general context and stratigraphy of the site or excavation area. The first few days will be spent detecting all relevant features within the excavation area, identifying grave cuts, and determining the stratigraphic relations between contexts. Thereafter, the most superficial layers of the area will be removed mechanically to allow for easier access to the burials. Burials will then be exposed, documented, and removed. Participants in this module will also be required to complete select readings on stratigraphy and taphonomy prior to the program.

Theory and Ethical Practice of Bioarchaeology

October 1 – 13

This module is effectively the prosecution of the previous one, and is focused primarily on the excavation of human remains once all burial cuts have been identified. In groups of 2-3 people, participants will learn the methods and techniques necessary for the proper excavation, documentation, and recovery of human remains in archaeological context. Participants in this module will also be required to complete select readings on the theory of bioarchaeology and participate in group discussions concerning the ethical implications of excavating human remains.


The program accepts a limited number of participants and welcomes applications from professional archaeologists, as well as advanced undergraduate and graduate students in archaeology, anthropology or allied disciplines from any country and institution. Current enrollment in a university is not a requirement. All applications are evaluated equally and acceptance decisions are primarily based on merit.

The only prerequisite of the program is prior archaeological excavation experience. Human osteological knowledge (typically through the completion of an Osteology course) is not required, but extremely advantageous.



Individuals interested in applying for the field experience must fill out and submit the online Application Form.

The application deadline is August 31, 2018. However, applications are reviewed as soon as they are received and applicants accepted on a first come, first served basis.

Curriculum vitae and/or reference letters (e-mails) may be requested. The staff reserves the right to verify any of the information reported in the application form and request supporting documentation (e.g., advising reports; references) in its sole discretion. Staff will make final decisions regarding enrollment. Acceptance will be communicated by e-mail.

Advanced Field Experience in Bioarchaeology
  • $ 950.00 to $ 1,500.00

    The Participation Fee for each 2-week module is $950. The fee for participating in both modules (4 weeks) is $1,500.


Participation fees cover general excavation equipment, personnel costs, and participant insurance. Fees do not include lodging, meals, transportation, personal gear and equipment, or any other costs not expressly specified.
Additional documentation and/or payment processing fees (not to exceed $50) may be applied to the final invoice.


Loyalty Discount – A 10% discount ($100) is available for students participating in more than one of IRLAB’s 2018 field-based programs (i.e., discount is not applicable to laboratory-based programs and short courses) and for individuals who have previously participated in other IRLAB programs. Discounts may not be combined; the greater possible discount will be applied to the invoice upon receipt of supporting documentation (if necessary).


Participants will receive a Certificate of Completion recognizing their successful completion of the program. The certificate will include the Participant name, Program name and dates, and completed learning objectives, and will be signed by an IRLAB officer.


Executive Director / PI
Dr. Giuseppe Vercellotti

Dr. Francesco Coschino

Project Manager
David Hubin

Field Supervisors
Alessandro Cariboni, Dr. Letizia Cavallini, Alan Farnocchia

Documentation Supervisor
Giuseppina Pisana


Individuals accepted into the program will receive detailed instructions on how to remit payments and submit the documentation required to hold their place in the program:

Participants must provide information on their health and complete a physical examination.

Participants must have valid health and injury insurance and must provide the insurance provider’s contact information, as well as the policy number, including a proof of tetanus vaccination (or booster) within the last 10 years.

All participants must read and accept the terms of the IRLAB Participation Agreement to participate in the program; a signed release form must be submitted prior to the start date of the field experience.

Participants will be required to pay fees in full within 7 business days of receipt of the invoice in case of admission. In case of participant withdrawal, all fees minus a non-refundable deposit of $300 will be refunded until September 2nd, 2018. After August 31st, 2018 fees will not be refunded. In the unlikely event of program cancellation, fees will be refunded in full (any applicable processing fees may not be refunded). Failure to provide any of the above-mentioned documents and payment within the terms specified at the time of admission will constitute an automatic forfeiture of the participant’s place in the program.

IRLAB employs a strict sexual harassment policy which applies to faculty, staff, student employees, participants, participants, and volunteers. Sexual harassment is unlawful and impedes the realization of our Field Experience objectives (read more…)