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Archaeology is about more than excavating historical sites to unearth artifacts from ancient civilizations. Some archaeologists apply their knowledge and skills to assist in legal matters. Forensic archaeologists study human skeletal remains to help investigators determine a time and cause of death. Other forensic archaeologists have worked with international organizations such as the United Nations to uncover and investigate mass graves from atrocities such as the Holocaust and the genocide in Bosnia. Archaeology is a subfield of anthropology, and forensic specialists in archaeology and anthropology earn salaries similar to those earned by other professionals in these disciplines.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2009 that anthropologists and archaeologists earned an average annual salary of $57,230, with the middle 50 percent earning between $39,000 and $72,000 a year. The lowest-paid 10 percent received less than $32,000 a year, and the highest-paid 10 percent earned more than $87,000 a year. The website SimplyHired.com reported that forensic archaeologists earned an average annual salary of $56,000.
Forensic anthropologist Dr. Arlene Midori Albert of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington reported that salaries for forensic archaeologists and anthropologists vary widely, based on such factors as education, experience, geographic location and place of employment. She pointed out that most forensic specialists in archaeology and anthropology work full time in academia, teaching university courses and conducting research. Full-time work in forensic archaeology or anthropology is the exception rather than the norm, Albert said.
Although archaeologists and anthropologists who work full time in forensics are rare, as Professor Albert pointed out, they do exist. The U.S. military is a significant employer of forensic archaeologists and anthropologists. The military's Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii studies human skeletal remains from military-related sites in hopes of establishing their identities. Forensic specialists earn between $42,000 and $98,000 a year, the U.S. Department of the Navy reported. Professor Albert reported that other full-time forensic archaeologists work with human rights organizations, studying skeletal remains from mass graves in hopes of identifying the victims.
Becoming a forensic archaeologist requires a serious educational investment, usually culminating in a Ph.D. in anthropology or archaeology. Professor Albert stated that some forensic archaeologists and anthropologists have a master's degree, but that the majority hold doctoral degrees. Earning a Ph.D. can require three to five years or even longer. During this time you will complete required coursework, pass a qualifying exam that assesses your mastery of the subject matter and demonstrate your ability to conduct your own research by completing a dissertation of original work.
Shane Hall is a writer and research analyst with more than 20 years of experience. His work has appeared in "Brookings Papers on Education Policy," "Population and Development" and various Texas newspapers. Hall has a Doctor of Philosophy in political economy and is a former college instructor of economics and political science.