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Become a Forensic Archaeologist: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a forensic archaeologist. Research the education and career requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career in forensic archaeology.

Forensic Archaeologists

Forensic archaeologists, also known as forensic anthropologists, use their knowledge of anthropology to help identify human remains, usually in medical or legal situations. In a few cases, forensic anthropologists employ archaeological methods to assist in the excavation of human remains.

Hours can be long, and evening and weekend work is common. The demand for forensic anthropologists is limited, so full-time jobs in this field are rare. Those who do work full-time are employed in several settings, such as medical examiners' offices, the armed services, non-governmental organizations, and academic institutions.

Career Requirements

A master's degree may be acceptable in this field, but a PhD is preferred or required for some positions. Relevant fields in which to earn a degree include forensic, biological, or physical anthropology. Experience requirements vary and some jobs may require up to 4-years-experience. Key skills include analytical and problem-solving, critical thinking and writing abilities. According to 2015 data gathered by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for anthropologists and archaeologists was $61,220.

Become a Forensic Archaeologist

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Aspiring forensic anthropologists with an interest in forensic archaeology should strongly consider undergraduate majors in anthropology or archaeology. Specializations in physical or biological anthropology are recommended for admission by some master's degree programs. However, for students whose schools do not offer these majors, an undergraduate degree in biology, chemistry, math, or forensic science can also provide solid preparation.

In many cases, students who are accepted to graduate programs in forensic anthropology have completed internships as undergraduates. Typical settings include archaeological excavation sites, law enforcement agencies, and medical examiners' offices.

Students interested in this career path should choose electives carefully. Some forensic anthropology master's degree programs prefer to accept students with coursework in areas like statistics, experimental design, anatomy, chemistry and biology. Students planning to apply to these programs can stand out by taking these courses as undergraduates, even if they are not required.

Step 2: Complete a Master's Degree Program

Admission to forensic anthropology master's degree programs tends to be highly competitive, and they are typically designed to prepare students for doctoral programs. However, graduates could also qualify for some jobs in settings such as law enforcement agencies, medical examiners' offices and crime labs. A master's degree program in general anthropology can provide good preparation for this career if it includes solid training in topics like physical anthropology, osteology, and statistics.

It is also important for students to publish completed research, especially for students planning to apply to doctoral programs. Publications demonstrate a PhD candidate's preparedness for independent research.

Step 3: Enroll in a PhD Program

Although a PhD is not strictly required for all forensic anthropology jobs, competition for the limited number of positions in this field is fierce, so doctoral program graduates may be preferred over master's graduates. Furthermore, for those who want to teach and conduct forensic anthropology and archaeology research in academic settings, a PhD is usually essential. Since there are currently no PhD programs specifically in forensic anthropology or archaeology, students can earn a doctoral degree in anthropology and specialize in, study, or research forensic anthropology.

Those who plan to seek tenure-track positions in academia should take advantage of any teaching opportunities their PhD programs offer. In addition to research experience and publications, a strong track record in the classroom can be helpful on the job market.

Aspiring forensic archaeologists or anthropologists need at least a master's degree in a related field, such as anthropology or forensic anthropology, and a doctoral degree is needed for those who wish to pursue research and tenured teaching opportunities in academia.

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