Career Development

What Does a Forensic Anthropologist Do?

Find out what a forensic anthropologist does, how to get this job, and what it takes to succeed as a forensic anthropologist.

Forensic anthropologists are scientists who study human remains to determine their age, sex, ancestry, and other physical characteristics. They may also be called upon to help identify unidentified bodies or determine the cause of death in cases where foul play is suspected.

Forensic anthropology is a relatively new field that emerged during the 20th century as technology advanced and law enforcement agencies began to rely more heavily on scientific evidence. Today, forensic anthropologists work closely with police departments, medical examiners, coroners, and crime scene investigators to provide expert analysis on human remains found at crime scenes or discovered during autopsies.

Forensic Anthropologist Job Duties

Forensic anthropologists have a wide range of responsibilities, which can include:

  • Examining human remains to determine age, sex, race, stature, ancestry, and health at the time of death
  • Investigating crimes involving unidentified human remains or mass graves using forensic methods to determine identities
  • Consulting with attorneys, law enforcement officials, medical examiners, and other experts on cases where the findings of an investigation may be legally challenged in court
  • Performing autopsies on human remains to determine cause of death
  • Conducting research in anthropology departments at colleges or universities, where they teach students about topics such as human evolution, race and ethnicity, and skeletal anatomy
  • Conducting analyses of burnt remains using radiocarbon dating methods or other forensic techniques to determine time of death
  • Conducting research on human populations through fieldwork in areas where people live and work, such as remote villages in developing countries
  • Performing archaeological excavations at crime scenes or other locations to recover human remains and other evidence that may be used in criminal investigations
  • Analyzing physical evidence such as bones, teeth, hair, and bodily fluids to determine biological characteristics such as age, sex, ancestry, height, weight, health status, and physical condition at time of death

Forensic Anthropologist Salary & Outlook

Forensic anthropologists’ salaries vary depending on their level of education, years of experience, and the type of work they do. Those who work for law enforcement typically earn more than those who work in private practice.

  • Median Annual Salary: $66,500 ($31.97/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $132,000 ($63.46/hour)

The employment of forensic anthropologists is expected to grow at an average rate over the next decade.

As populations continue to grow, more people will be displaced and move to new areas. Forensic anthropologists will be needed to identify human remains and determine cause of death in these cases. In addition, the need to identify human remains from mass graves and other sites will continue to drive demand for these workers.

Related: Forensic Anthropologist Interview Questions and Answers

Forensic Anthropologist Job Requirements

A forensic anthropologist typically needs to have the following qualifications:

Education: Forensic anthropologists typically earn a bachelor’s degree in forensic science, biology, anthropology or another closely related field. After earning their bachelor’s degree, forensic anthropologists typically earn a doctorate in forensic anthropology.

Forensic anthropology programs typically include coursework in human anatomy, forensic science, anthropology, biology, chemistry and statistics.

Training & Experience: Forensic anthropologists receive most of their training through their educational programs. Students complete internships to gain practical experience in the field. Forensic anthropologists who work for government agencies may receive additional on-the-job training.

Certifications & Licenses: Though not always required, many employers expect that forensic anthropologists have certification in forensic anthropology. There are two certifying boards that qualify individuals to be forensic anthropologists.

Forensic Anthropologist Skills

Forensic anthropologists need the following skills in order to be successful:

Technical skills: Forensic anthropologists use technical skills to analyze and interpret data. They use technical skills to identify human remains and determine the cause of death. They also use technical skills to identify the age, gender and ancestry of a person.

Communication skills: Forensic anthropologists often work with other professionals in the legal and medical fields. They need to be able to communicate effectively with these professionals to share their findings and explain their conclusions. They also need to be able to explain their findings to the general public.

Observation skills: Forensic anthropologists use observation skills to examine human remains and determine the cause of death, the age of the individual and other details about the person’s life. They also use observation skills to examine crime scenes and determine what happened. This can include examining the position of the body, the condition of the body and any other evidence at the scene.

Research skills: Forensic anthropologists use research skills to gather information about human remains and the circumstances surrounding them. They use research skills to find information about the age, gender and race of a body, as well as the time period in which the body was buried. They also use research skills to find information about the environment in which the body was buried, such as the soil conditions and the types of plants and animals in the area.

Investigative skills: Forensic anthropologists use investigative skills to examine crime scenes and determine the cause of death. They also use investigative skills to examine skeletal remains and determine the age, gender and race of the individual. This information can help law enforcement identify the individual and find the person’s family.

Forensic Anthropologist Work Environment

Forensic anthropologists work in a variety of settings, including crime laboratories, medical examiner’s offices, and universities. They may also be called to work at crime scenes, which can be outdoors and in a variety of weather conditions. Forensic anthropologists typically work a regular 40-hour week, although they may be required to work overtime during busy periods or when working on a deadline. The work can be stressful, as it often involves dealing with death and tragedy. Forensic anthropologists must be able to maintain their composure in difficult situations and be able to work well under pressure.

Forensic Anthropologist Trends

Here are three trends influencing how forensic anthropologists work. Forensic anthropologists will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.

The Use of DNA in Forensic Investigations

The use of DNA in forensic investigations is becoming increasingly common, as it can be used to identify suspects and victims more quickly and accurately than other methods.

As forensic anthropologists are often called upon to help with DNA-based investigations, they will need to be familiar with the latest techniques and procedures for collecting and analyzing DNA samples. This includes understanding how to collect DNA from different types of evidence, such as bones, teeth, and hair.

The Growth of Forensic Science Academies

The growth of forensic science academies is a trend that is seeing increasing popularity among high school students. These academies provide students with an opportunity to learn about forensic science through hands-on experience, which can be very appealing to those who are interested in this field.

As forensic science academies grow in popularity, forensic anthropologists will need to develop strong relationships with these schools in order to find employment after graduation. In addition, forensic anthropologists will need to be on the lookout for new technologies and methods that are being developed in order to stay ahead of the curve.

More Collaboration Between Law Enforcement and Forensic Anthropologists

There has been a growing trend towards collaboration between law enforcement and forensic anthropologists in recent years. This is due to the fact that both parties have something to offer each other in terms of expertise and resources.

As forensic anthropology becomes more popular, forensic anthropologists will need to be able to work effectively with law enforcement in order to provide them with the information they need. This requires a deep understanding of the legal system and the needs of law enforcement officials.

How to Become a Forensic Anthropologist

Forensic anthropologists have a unique career path. They must first complete a graduate degree in anthropology, then specialize in forensic anthropology. This can be done by completing a one- or two-year fellowship program with the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS).

Once they’ve completed their training, forensic anthropologists work closely with law enforcement to help identify human remains and determine cause of death. They may also assist in other types of criminal investigations, such as missing persons cases.

To stay up-to-date on the latest developments in their field, forensic anthropologists must read scientific journals and attend professional conferences. They should also keep an eye out for new technologies that could improve their work, such as DNA testing and 3D printing.

Advancement Prospects

Forensic anthropologists with advanced degrees and experience may find positions as consultants, expert witnesses, or professors at colleges and universities. Some may also advance to supervisory or managerial positions in forensic laboratories.

Forensic Anthropologist Job Description Example

The [CompanyX] is currently seeking a Forensic Anthropologist to join our team. The Forensic Anthropologist will be responsible for providing expert testimony and analysis of human remains in support of criminal investigations. He/She will work with law enforcement agencies and the medical examiner’s office to identify human remains and determine the cause of death. The Forensic Anthropologist will also be responsible for conducting research on human remains and presenting findings at conferences and in peer-reviewed journals.

The ideal candidate will have a Ph.D. in Anthropology with a specialization in Forensic Anthropology, as well as experience working in a forensic lab. He/She will be proficient in the use of osteometric and forensic software, and will have excellent communication and writing skills.

Duties & Responsibilities

  • Serve as a consultant to law enforcement agencies in the identification of human remains
  • Assist in the development of search and recovery strategies for missing persons cases
  • Conduct fieldwork to recover and process human remains
  • Analyze skeletal, dental, and soft tissue remains to determine age, sex, ancestry, and other characteristics
  • Prepare detailed reports of findings and present testimony in court when necessary
  • Maintain up-to-date knowledge of advances in the field of forensic anthropology through literature review and attendance at professional conferences
  • Serve as a liaison between law enforcement and the medical examiner’s office
  • Supervise graduate students and technicians working on projects
  • Manage and maintain laboratory facilities and equipment
  • Develop and teach courses in forensic anthropology
  • Write grant proposals to secure funding for research projects
  • Publish research findings in peer-reviewed journals

Required Skills and Qualifications

  • Bachelor’s degree in anthropology, biology, or related field
  • Master’s degree in forensic anthropology preferred
  • 2-4 years of experience working in a forensic anthropology lab
  • Thorough knowledge of human anatomy and osteology
  • Proficient in Microsoft Office suite and statistical software programs
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills

Preferred Skills and Qualifications

  • Certification by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology
  • Experience teaching courses in forensic anthropology
  • Experience testifying as an expert witness in court
  • Working knowledge of Spanish or another language


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