Master's Degree in Forensic Archaeology: Program Overview

Oct 20, 2021

Essential Information

Forensic anthropology master's degree programs usually take two years to complete. Many courses are supplemented with labs. Elective course options may include paleoanthropology and Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

In a master's program in forensic anthropology, research methodology is emphasized, and students learn about the statistical skills utilized in the field. Most programs require a thesis or research project, as well as comprehensive exams. Students also learn to write papers for publication and hone their presentation skills.

Master's Degree Programs in Forensic Anthropology

Forensic anthropology programs train students to locate, excavate and document human remains using archaeological field methods. Programs generally instruct students in specific techniques like lab analysis and results interpretation. Additionally, parallel training is provided in how to apply discoveries to court cases and medical investigations involving human deaths. Students typically learn about osteology, skeletal biology and human anatomy in order to understand human remains. Other core topics include fossil studies and taphonomy, DNA analysis, crime scene investigation, courtroom presentation and expert witness testimony. Some programs require a research-based master's thesis and successful completion of comprehensive exams.

Programs may require applicants to have a bachelor's degree in anthropology. A student who focused on archaeology, a subfield of anthropology, and took anatomy courses during undergraduate years may be preferred. Letters of intent and recommendation are also required. GPA and GRE requirements may apply.

M.A. and M.S. programs both blend topics in anthropology, the natural sciences and criminal justice. Common topics include:

  • Homicide investigation
  • Forensic radiology
  • Fragmentary osteology
  • Outdoor crime scenes
  • Physical evidence recovery
  • Skeletal trauma

Popular Career Options

Students with an M.A. or M.S. may pursue careers in government, medicine, nonprofit organizations and education. Possible titles include:

  • Archaeologist
  • Heritage manager
  • Historic buildings inspector/conservation officer
  • Museum education officer
  • Museum/gallery curator
  • Museum/gallery exhibitions officer
  • Archivist
  • Cartographer
  • Higher education lecturer
  • Records manager
  • Social researcher
  • Tourism officer

Continuing Education Info

After obtaining a master's degree, students may apply to doctoral programs to obtain a terminal Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree. Relevant Ph.D. program fields include forensic anthropology, biological anthropology, criminal justice and bioarchaeology.

Forensic archaeology is a sub-discipline of archaeology that combines traditional archaeological goals and methods with contemporary forensic science. Students with an undergraduate background in archaeology, anthropology or a related field may consider applying to a forensic archaeology M.A. or M.S. program if they are interested in this field.

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