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Forensic Anthropologist: Job Description, Outlook and Salary

Sep 25, 2019

Forensic anthropology jobs are fairly uncommon, but those in the field can work to help identify human remains in a range of situations. Find out more about forensic anthropologist duties, salary, and education requirements.

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Forensic Anthropologist Job Description

There are a variety of careers in forensics, including forensic scientist, forensic autopsy assistant, forensic computer analyst, and forensic anthropologist. While some people may think that forensic anthropologists investigate crime scenes, that is not typically the case. Forensic anthropology strictly looks at human remains, and does not involve the collection of any kind of weapon or other kinds of evidence found at a crime scene, and may involve examining human remains from history. Learn more about a career as a forensic anthropologist here.

What Does a Forensic Anthropologist Do?

Forensic anthropology falls under biological and physical anthropology, as opposed to cultural, social, or linguistic anthropology. Forensic anthropologists primarily help recover and analyze human remains from crime scenes, historical sites, and other scenarios. Other forensic anthropologist duties may include:

  • Identifying the age and sex of remains
  • Cleaning bones for examination
  • Figuring out the identity of remains through dental records
  • Determining a time of death
  • Examining bones to determine the kind and extent of injuries/cause of death
  • Participating in fieldwork and lab analysis
  • Testifying in court concerning cases

What is the Outlook for Forensic Anthropology Jobs?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stated that the job outlook for anthropologists and archaeologists from 2018 to 2028 is expected to grow 10%. Although this job outlook is faster than the national average, the BLS still predicts competition in the field due to the limited number of positions in the field and budgetary constraints.

How Much do Forensic Anthropologists Make?

In May 2018, the BLS reported that anthropologists and archaeologists made a median annual salary of $62,410. The BLS also noted that the highest concentration of employment for the field was in scientific research and development services.

PayScale.com reported a median salary of $49,367 as of September 2019 specifically for forensic anthropologists. This salary increased slightly with experience, as forensic anthropologists with 5 to 9 years of experience reported a median salary of $50,249. Salaries may also vary by location and any additional bonuses.

What Degrees Do You Need to Be a Forensic Anthropologist?

Aspiring anthropologists with a bachelor's degree must typically work as fieldworkers or assistants, while it requires at least a master's degree to be an anthropologist. Doctoral degrees are also common in the field and allow anthropologists to move into independent research and/or teaching positions.

Forensic anthropologists will usually pursue a master's degree after earning a bachelor's and before obtaining a PhD. Master's degree programs are usually available as a Master of Science (MS) in Forensic Anthropology or a Master of Arts (MA) in Anthropology with a track in forensic anthropology. These programs may range from about 30 to 42 credits and commonly require a thesis, although some programs may also offer a professional paper and/or portfolio option in its place. Students in these degree programs may take courses in topics like:

  • Forensic anthropology
  • Forensic science
  • Statistics
  • Osteology
  • Witness testimony
  • Taphonomy
  • Mortuary archaeology

While a master's degree is sufficient for most anthropology jobs, a doctoral degree is typically required for forensic anthropologists. A PhD program is more likely to be offered in a field like biological anthropology, but research and/or fellowship opportunities may be available specifically in forensic anthropology. Doctoral programs require a dissertation but generally offer more flexibility in coursework.

Other Requirements for Forensic Anthropologists

It is important for any anthropologist to gain hands-on experience in the field. This is likely to occur during their formal education through labs, field experiences, and opportunities at research facilities. Anthropologists also need the physical stamina to work long hours in the field, as well as valuable critical-thinking and analytical skills to perform their job duties.

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