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Job Description of a Forensic Anthropologist

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Highly rated television crime shows have contributed to forensic anthropology's popularity as a profession. Forensic anthropology – one specific, applied type of biological or physical anthropology – involves performing scientific and medical work within the realm of the law. Though the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that employment growth of all anthropologists and archaeologists is expected to be 21 percent from 2010 to 2020, this growth will actually result in a relatively small number of additional jobs, since the field as a whole is small and specialized.

Forensic Anthropology Job Duties

In general, forensic anthropologists are responsible for applying scientific analysis to legal situations involving human remains. They help investigators and other professionals to uncover and examine human remains. By analyzing these remains, usually using specialized equipment and technology, forensic anthropologists can draw conclusions about the life of the deceased, including determining identity and pinpointing the conditions under which death occurred. Though job duties and specialties may vary, forensic anthropologists generally focus on skeletal structures, and their examinations often include DNA analysis. Forensic anthropologists frequently work together with teams of other professionals, such as pathologists and crime scene investigators. Their expertise is often used as the basis for legal rulings in criminal cases and they may be called on to testify in court.

Places of Employment

Though working in the field is perhaps the most well-known part of a forensic anthropologist’s job, most forensic anthropologists spend their time in a more traditional job setting, such as an office. There is not a particularly constant demand for forensic anthropologist services. Even in places with a lot of crime, cases calling for these specialized services may be rare. Because of this, many of these anthropologists work as crime consultants on an as-needed basis. In the meantime, they may work for academic institutions, research groups, medical examiner’s offices, non-governmental organizations and even the armed forces.

Required Education

Professional forensic anthropologists need to have a master’s degree, and in some cases a doctorate may be required. Students can expect to undergo training in skeletal biology, pathology, legal methods and archaeological recovery methods. Field research and other work experiences are highly important to a prospective forensic anthropologist; therefore, students often gain a background in the field through internships and research projects.

Personal Qualities

Due to the sensitive work they perform, forensic anthropologists need to have a high attention to detail. They should be able to think critically and be highly analytical about the situations in which they are working. The ability to communicate and work well with others is desirable, since they often work on cross-disciplinary teams when examining a crime scene or legal case. They should have strong writing and speaking skills in order to present their findings to others. This can be in a formal, written report, or in testimony as an expert witness in court.


Samantha Ley writes career and education articles for various online publications. She also works in social media management and creates test materials and other educational content for various companies. Ley holds a B.A. in English and Spanish from Kenyon College and an M.Ed. from the University of Virginia.

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