What is Forensic Anthropology?

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What is Forensic Anthropology?

Forensic Anthropology refers to the application of scientific techniques and principles to the identification of the deceased. In some cases these will have been victims of disasters, both natural and man- made, the victims of homicide but also may have died in non-suspicious circumstances.

The primary role of a forensic anthropologist within an investigation is the systematic study of skeletal or fragmentary remains in order to create a biological profile for the deceased which includes ancestry, sex, age at death and stature.  Other assessments may include the analysis of trauma or pathologies. Forensic anthropologists may also be involved in the recovery of scattered or fragmented remains, however would work with other practitioners such as forensic archaeologists in the recovery of remains from clandestine burials, unless they also had an archaeology background.

Forensic Anthropologists work in a number of areas including; private companies providing forensic services, museums and universities.

Degree Courses

There are a number of routes to becoming a forensic anthropologist. Today there are undergraduate degrees in forensic anthropology, some of which are accredited by the Chartered Society of Forensic Science.  Most universities will answer any queries that you have about their courses.

Other routes: Many practitioners have an anatomy or bio-archaeological background and undertake a postgraduate course in forensic anthropology.  As forensic anthropology involves a thorough understanding of skeletal osteology and this is in turn influenced by the surrounding soft tissue, a knowledge of anatomy is important.


There is now a certification process for forensic anthropologists based in the UK and internationally, run by the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. This provides three levels of certified practitioner and full details of requirements and the application processes can be found on these webpages.


11 minute video of Professor Dame Sue Black explaining the science of Human Identification. Part of ‘Forensics: the anatomy of crime’ video collection: http://wellcomecollection.org/forensics

Read the article “A Day in the Life of a Forensic Anthropologist” by Julie Roberts & Linda Ainscough, Cellmark Forensic Services.