What Is a Forensic Anthropologist?

Forensic anthropologists are experts in analyzing human remains and for this reason are integral to a number of different types of forensic investigations. Oftentimes, forensic anthropologists are called on after mass disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis in order to assist in identifying human remains. They are also used at crime scenes to help recover evidence.

What Does a Forensic Anthropologist Do?

Forensic anthropologists are educated in osteology, or the study of bones. Using this knowledge, a forensic anthropologist can look at human remains and determine how the person died; whether it was suicide, homicide, accidental, or from natural causes. Using human bones the forensic anthropologist can determine the age of the individuals, the sex, the height, the type of occupation they worked in and the overall health status at the time of death. This information can lead crime scene investigators to their identities is as well as how they died.

Educational Requirements

Forensic anthropology is a specialization within the anthropology field. The first step in becoming a forensic anthropologist is to earn a bachelor's degree in anthropology. Undergraduates focus on taking classes in a wide variety of areas such as archaeology, cultural and physical anthropology, and science classes such as genetics, anatomy, and chemistry. Mastering osteology, ethnobotany, and dentition is important for someone who wishes to be successful in this career. A master's degree or Ph.D. in forensic anthropology is necessary to find a job within the field.

Places that Employ Forensic Anthropologists

There are two main categories of forensic anthropologists, academic and applied. Those employed in the academic world work in colleges and universities teaching classes and performing individual research projects. The number of projects a forensic anthropologist works on in the academic area will depend on the university he/she works for. Forensic anthropologists working in the applied field may work with a law enforcement agency, a coroner's office, or directly with medical examiners. Applied forensic anthropology involves visiting crime scenes and working directly with bodies to gather information about how the individual died.

Job Outlook and Salary

The job outlook for forensic anthropologists is not great since most of the positions for this type of work are within universities or as consultants for cases involving unknown identity. Consultant work can consist of working in a medical examiner's office, with local, state, or federal law enforcement agencies, or on human rights cases. The number of people specialized in this field is not large, which means getting a job may prove difficult. The average salary is around $61,220 per year with salaries of up to $97,040 per year for individuals with more than five years of experience.

Forensic anthropology is the study of human remains for scientific evidence. Using just bones, a forensic anthropologist can determine information about the deceased individual, which may aid in criminal investigations. During times of disasters, forensic anthropologist can help uncover and identify the bones of missing people.