Forensic Anthropology

Why Get a Degree or Certificate in Forensic Anthropology?

An applied area of physical anthropology, forensic anthropology uses science and technology to address complex issues that involve both medical and legal aspects, such as collecting and analyzing evidence associated with a crime. Forensic anthropology has three distinct concentrations, including:

  • The study of the skeleton, known as Forensic Osteology
  • The collection of human remains, or Forensic Archeology
  • The study of changes to the body resulting from death, known as Forensic Taphonomy

According to the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, forensic anthropologists often use their training and skill to assist law enforcement in:

  • Determining if skeletal remains are human;
  • Cleaning and preparing bones so they can be analyzed;
  • Identifying bodies that are not able to be identified through traditional processes (ex: dental records or fingerprints);
  • Analyzing human remains to determine time and cause of death.

The field of forensic anthropology is often described as challenging, but rewarding. Several forensic anthropologists who work with law enforcement indicate that collaborating in an effort to solve a crime and bring closure to families of victims is the most rewarding part of the job.

What Skills Will I Learn While Studying for a Degree/Certificate in Forensic Anthropology?

While preparing for a degree in Forensic Anthropology, students are exposed to, engage in, and prepare for important forensic anthropology related competencies, including:

  • Demonstrating the methods and techniques used to locate, recover, and identify human skeletal remains.
  • Explaining the process involved in the initial preservation of remains, distinguishing human from non-human remains, and estimating the number of individual remains at a specific scene.
  • Identifying and explaining the use of the bones and major anatomical features of the human skeleton.
  • Employing various techniques when identifying and determining sex, stature, age, and other identifying features of human remains.
  • Using latest postmortem techniques and processes when estimating time-since-death scenarios.
  • Identifying and demonstrating methodologies and techniques used to determine trauma and/or pathological conditions of the human skeleton.

How are Forensic Anthropology Courses Taught?

Classes leading to a degree or certification in Forensic Anthropology include study of several math and science topics and span a wide array of subjects, including principle of anthropology, osteology, expert witness testimony, anatomy, excavation of remains, experimental design, crime scene methodology and biological anthropology.

Anthropology courses are primarily taught through traditional classroom lecture and laboratory setting, while a few programs offer online courses.

Many Forensic Anthropology programs also expect students to participate in hands-on experiences specifically designed to expose students to the analytical and critical thinking skills required to determine situations leading up to the death of individuals in both the present and the past.

Several schools offering coursework in Forensic Anthropology also expect students to participate in authentic research or public presentation opportunities designed to further prepare them for requirements of employment in the field. These opportunities often lead students to specialize in specific areas of Forensic Anthropology, such as Forensic Entomology or Forensic Taphonomy.

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How Long Does It Take To Earn a Degree in Forensic Anthropology?

Many forensic anthropologists follow a similar educational path, starting with earning a Bachelor's degree and moving on to advanced masters and PhD study. Like most bachelor degree programs, the typical course of study takes roughly four years. However, the path toward becoming a forensic anthropologist provides wide flexibility in the specific area of study. It is recommended that those focusing on a career in forensic anthropology focus bachelor degree study in a related field, such as criminal justice, biology, or forensic science.

A Master's degree in Forensic Anthropology typically includes specific subject area study and focus on the skills required in this field. With full-time enrollment, most complete the coursework required to earn a Master's degree in two years.

Earning a PhD in Forensic Anthropology is often a time-consuming and intense course of study. Typical PhD students take between three and six years to finish the program. As part of the PhD course of study, students are required to declare a specialty area of study, complete authentic research in this area, and write and defend a dissertation related to the area of study.

What Kind of Jobs Can I Do With Forensic Anthropology Masters/Doctorate/Certificate?

Information provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that the median income for forensic anthropologists was $66,130 per year. Upon successful completion of a Forensic Anthropology Masters degree or PhD, students are ready to seek employment in a variety of careers in the field of forensic anthropology, including:

  • Forensic Anthropologist
  • Forensic Scientist
  • Museum Curator
  • College Professor
  • Forensic DNA Analyst

2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job growth projections for Anthropologists and Archeologists reflect national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed September 2021.

What Are The Benefits of Having A Degree in Forensic Anthropology?

According to information provided by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology (ABFA), you will need to minimally earn a bachelor's degree in anthropology or a related field and a master's degree in anthropology in order to work in the field of forensic anthropology.

In addition, and with a fairly small number of forensic anthropology positions available, the ABFA recommends individuals also earn a PhD in a field specific to forensic anthropology. Earning a PhD in Forensic Anthropology is also a requirement in order to instruct or lecture at the college/university level.

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How Can I Find Additional Information on Forensic Anthropology Degrees?

More information on Forensic Anthropology and Forensic Anthropology degrees can be found here:

American Board of Forensic Anthropology

Bureau of Labor and Statistics