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  • Delivery:
    Full time according to Funding Council definitions, Part-Time

Biological Anthropology is the study of evolution and variation in human populations and of the interactions between human biology and environment. This combines our international reputation for anthropology, archaeology and biology, specifically including studies in primatology, evolutionary anthropology, human osteology, zooarchaeology, but also (paeleo-) ecology and behaviour.

This exciting course gives a core grounding in human evolution, primate behaviour and ecology, the origins of human behaviour and how hominines adapted to their environment, as well as human and animal skeletal analysis. Ultimately this course offers a uniquely wide range of suitable project topics that can prepare you for a career in a variety of aligned fields.

Master's degrees in sciences

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Key information

Next start date:

September 2017, September 2018


Bournemouth University, Talbot Campus


1 year full-time or 2 years part-time

Relevant subjects:

Archaeology, biological sciences, biological anthropology or anthropology

Entry requirements:

A Bachelors Honours degree, 2:2 or above or equivalent in a relevant subject area and/or relevant comprehensive professional experience. If English is not your first language you'll need IELTS 6.5 (Academic) or above. For more information check out our full entry requirements.

Course details

Core units

  • Human Evolution: The global record of human evolution from seven million - twelve thousand years ago. You'll explore the many lines of evidence which contribute to our understanding of this period including archaeological material, fossil anatomy, geochronology, landscape change and ancient DNA. There will be much emphasis the Old World, although the global dispersal of humans will also be covered. You'll develop a critical understanding of theories underpinning the study of human evolution, including evolutionary theory, adaptive ecological strategies and behavioural and biological change. The overarching aim is for you to achieve a deep understanding of the interdisciplinary basis of human evolution, and to develop the skills for navigating expanding and rapidly changing field independently. Unit delivery will be aimed at developing expertise in analytical and critical thinking, and confidence in communication and presentation.

  • Human Functional Anatomy: Lectures and laboratory practicals, the use of teaching casts and skeletal material, anatomical drawing hand-outs and anatomy reference sources will develop your osteological and general study skills. Accessing the laboratory outside teaching hours gives you the opportunity to self-direct your learning and to study materials in your own time. The aim of this unit is to enable you to gain detailed knowledge of human musculoskeletal anatomy that emphasises a functional approach to identifying and describing human remains, intact and fragmented, recovered from archaeological and forensic contexts. It provides you with proficiency in distinguishing morphological variation and produces a working knowledge of human functional anatomy, including considering developmental processes in the human skeleton and understanding biomechanical approaches to human movement.

  • Primate Behaviour & Ecology: Providing an understanding of how primate behaviour can be interpreted from an evolutionary viewpoint, and how human and non-human primates’ behavioural strategies are adapted to the environment (social and ecological) in which they live, the unit will stimulate discussion and the critical analysis of theories by a combination of lectures, directed reading, and discussion sessions, which will involve the analysis of scientific articles.

  • Principles & Methods in Zooarchaeology: This unit will provide you with a solid basis in the principles of identification of mammals, birds and fish and the recording and analytical methods currently employed in the study of animal bones from archaeological sites. It will also provide you with an appreciation of how animal bone studies are integrated with other aspects of archaeology. You will learn mainly through practical workshops, in which you will further your familiarity with zooarchaeological assemblages and techniques, through the handling of material and by practical exercises based on that material. Case studies will explore how investigations of faunal remains can be integrated within the wider discipline of archaeology.

  • Research Project: Develop your expertise in research methods, data collection, analysis, interpretation and synthesis and explore in detail core aspects of your subject area, with a view to generating new practical or theoretical insights. You will develop methodological, research, presentation skills and advanced communication skills by producing an extensive dissertation or report on your research.

Option units

You'll choose one of the following units:

  • Principles & Methods in Human Osteology: This unit provides an introduction to the basic principles of analysis and interpretation involved in the study of skeletal remains of modern humans from archaeological and forensic contexts and covers the principles and application of biological profiling from the skeleton. Characteristics covered include age-at death, biological sex, stature, metric and non-metric variation. The unit will also provide a general introduction to skeletal anatomy, the sub-adult skeleton, the dentition and differences between human and non-human animal bone. The unit functions as a self-contained introduction to human osteology at level M which can either stand alone, or form the foundation for more advanced study of human skeletal remains.

  • Techniques of Archaeological Recovery & Recording: Taking part in field work exercises and practical demonstrations gives you grounding in the methods involved in archaeological field recording and recovery.  You'll learn about the principles of location, survey, excavation and the planning and recording of archaeological finds and features. You'll also learn about planning field projects, which covers health & safety and budgeting.

And one of the following:

  • Archaeology of Human Remains:Human remains, whether preserved as skeletons or otherwise, contain complex messages about the biological individual and social persona they represent, as well as the population or community they belong to. Bioarchaeology endeavours to decipher this information and to interpret it against the backdrop of ambient social, cultural, political and economic circumstances. This unit offers the means to do this by providing a contextualized understanding of human remains through a combined appreciation of the osteological and archaeological evidence, and natural science applications. It puts theoretical knowledge into hands-on experiential learning to allow for the in-depth study of major aspects of the human life course at individual and population levels. Themes include demography, diet, health and disease, activity, mobility, genetics and mortuary behaviour, complemented by fundamental considerations of taphonomy and degradation.

  • Bodies of Evidence - Skeletal Changes Before & After Death: This unit focuses on skeletonised remains and interpreting material from forensic contexts, although the content will also be relevant to archaeological material and some consideration will be given to soft tissue remains. The unit will consider changes that take place during an individual’s life and after death that produce variations in the nature and appearance of the skeleton. Variation sources during life include disease processes and injuries affecting bone, whilst post-mortem events include the decomposition processes, changes in the burial environment and alteration by burning. You'll also consider the ways skeletal samples can be investigated statistically at the level of populations. Professional frameworks relating to forensic casework and procedures and methods of report writing will also be taught.

  • Humans, Animals & Diet: Gain a detailed understanding of the history of animal exploitation for food and the inter-relationships between humans and animals in different periods and regions. This unit aims to provide you with knowledge of the major developments in animal exploitation in Britain. A number of central themes in zooarchaeological studies will be explored that can be applied to the study of human diets in European, Asian and New World contexts. You will also be developing critical awareness of the range of cultural attitudes towards animals, in different human societies.

Please note that option units require minimum numbers to run and may change from year to year.

Programme specification

Programme specifications provide definitive records of the university's taught degrees in line with Quality Assurance Agency requirements. Every taught course leading to a BU Award has a programme specification which describes its aims, structure, content and learning outcomes, plus the teaching, learning and assessment methods used.

Download the programme specification for MSc Biological Anthropology

Whilst every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of the programme specification, the information is liable to change to take advantage of exciting new approaches to teaching and learning as well as developments in industry. If you have been unable to locate the programme specification for the course you are interested in, it will be available as soon as the latest version is ready. Alternatively please contact us for assistance.

Placement opportunities

Voluntary placements are available on this course.

Employment prospects are now truly international and BU encourages students to consider an international work placement or volunteering experience during their degree. One way could be through the EU-funded Erasmus mobility programme which supports placements and study exchanges in Europe. Students can also participate in international placements outside of Europe. There are opportunities to engage with summer schools and volunteering projects. These experiences help students to enhance their global employability skills.

Selection criteria

Background and experience

For Biological Anthropology we are looking for applicants who:

  • Have enthusiasm to learn about a wide range of issues relating to the study of human behaviour, origins and physical variation
  • Are keen on practical learning in a laboratory environment
  • Are keen to develop critical thinking skills and apply these to the study of human populations principally through the study of human skeletal remains
  • Can demonstrate an academic interest and ability in sciences relevant to Biological Anthropology by having suitable prior experience and/or qualifications – possibly including archaeology, and/or forensic science
  • Can demonstrate an existing interest in the study of human remains by having previous experience of the study of human osteology, anatomy or human evolution.

We are looking for students who are keen to develop their intellectual skills by gaining a sound understanding of a range of areas of study within Biological Anthropology. We particularly encourage applications from people who have an enthusiasm for developing critical thinking and observational skills and who would like to develop better understanding of the human species through the study of human remains. Such skills and knowledge may then form a basis for further postgraduate study. Students on this degree course will typically have backgrounds in Archaeology, Anatomy, or Forensic Science.

Selection methods

Applicants are not normally required to attend an interview but are encouraged to arrange an appointment at one the postgraduate open days in order to make sure the course selected is right for them.

For more information, take a look at our post graduate how to apply pages.

Full entry requirements

The normal requirements for embarking upon a postgraduate taught degree are:

  • Possession of 2:2 degree or equivalent
  • For post-experience and professional qualifications, there may be additional entry requirements set by the association or institute that ultimately administers the qualification in question. The qualification description on the course information pages should tell you what these are but please get in touch with the AskBU Enquiry Service if you are in doubt.

If you lack the formal academic qualifications needed to enter a postgraduate or post-experience degree, there are several alternative routes to follow - some based on experience. Contact the AskBU Enquiry Service for more information.

International entry requirements

If English is not your first language, you will need to provide evidence that you can understand English to a satisfactory level. English language requirements for this course are normally:

  •  IELTS (academic) 6.5 overall with a minimum of 5.5 in each component, or equivalent.

View further information about our English language requirements.

A number of pre-sessional English and preparatory programmes are offered through our partner institution, Bournemouth University International College, and will get you ready for study at BU at the appropriate level.

You can also find further details of the international qualifications we accept, and what level of study they apply to, on our postgraduate entry requirements page.


Most of our MSc Biological Anthropology graduates choose to embark on a career in teaching or future research, however there are many and varied professional opportunities for biological anthropologists.

As an MSc Biological Anthropology graduate, you will be prepared to undertake roles such as:

  • Forensic anthropologist
  • Primate behavioural ecology/conservation manager
  • Professional osteoarchaeologist
  • Forensic consultant
  • Human palaeontologist.

Industries worked in

  • Education
  • Museums
  • Law enforcement
  • Academic research.

Further study

If you want to continue your studies after achieving your Master's, you can look into our range of doctoral programmes.

No hidden extras

Course-specific material(s) included in your tuition fee

  • Lab coats, glasses and standard enclosed headphones

As a student at BU we will provide many things to support you and there will also be additional costs you may encounter whilst studying at BU. The information below will help you understand our provision and what you need to budget for.

What you can expect from us

All of your teaching and assessments are included in your tuition fees, including lectures/guest lectures and tutorials, seminars, laboratory sessions and specialist teaching facilities. You will also have access to a wide range of support and services. You will receive more details about these if you are offered a place on the course.

  • One set of study-related consumables such as a memory stick
  • Materials for laboratory and field-based teaching activity
  • Support for placements (UK or abroad) and fieldwork
  • A range of student services – advisors, help desks, counsellors, placement support and careers service
  • The Library – access to a wide range of electronic resources (databases, e-journals and e-books), print and multimedia collections, subject librarians and study spaces
  • IT labs (some open 24/7), wireless network, AV equipment to borrow
  • Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) scheme
  • Disability and additional learning support
  • The BU Language Centre to help you develop/improve foreign or English language skills
  • 24 hours a day, 365 days a year security team.

Costs of living and other expenses you need to consider

  • Accommodation and living costs: view our price guide
  • Text books: remember that our award-winning library is stocked with a large range of text books for all courses, as well as online resources such as industry journals, free of charge
  • General stationery and other supplies such as print and presentation materials: the Students’ Union shops stock a wide range of stationery supplies on both campuses
  • Travel to, from and between BU campuses: our bus service operates in the local areas offering a subsidised travel rate; we also have a large number of secure bike storage compounds
  • SportBU membership: check out our student membership packages, sports events, varsity teams, information about our new facilities and more on the SportBU pages.
  • Fieldwork travel, outdoor wear and footwear (where applicable)
  • Telephone and travel costs incurred when undertaking interviews for coursework/securing placements.
  • A fee will be payable towards the cost of an Educational Psychology Assessment if this is required in connection with additional learning support. BU pays for approximately two-thirds of the cost of this assessment for UK students. For more details and current pricing please visit the Students section of the website.

Repeat units

If you need to repeat one or more units during the course of your studies, you may be required to pay additional fees equivalent to one ninth of the tuition fee per 20 credit unit.

Financial help available from BU

We offer a range of scholarships and bursaries to students who are beginning their studies at BU. Our website also provides details on living costs, budgeting and paying your tuition fees.

What our students say

Sara McGuire

My studies have enabled me to develop skills in the study of human skeletal anatomy, and apply them many fields including archaeology, forensic anthropology, evolutionary biology, and the study of primate societies.

Hear from our staff

Professor Holger Schutkowski

I love standing in front of students and suddenly seeing this sparkle as you get people hooked on an idea - it’s one of the things I love about teaching.

What our students say

Helen Slater

I get to spend 8 months in the Sumatran jungle, with orang-utans, gibbons, monkeys, tigers, leopards, rhinos, elephants and much more. Who else can say that?!

Facilities & opportunities

anthropology archaeology students

Anthropology lab

We hold one of the largest human remains collections among UK universities - find out more about how it’s used during our courses.

Big Dig site with crowd of fieldworkers

Archaeology and Anthropology

Read about the work we're doing through our Archaeology and Anthropology research centre and find out more about projects such as The Durotriges Big Dig and the Swash Channel Wreck.

Additional information

Your career and development

Your career and development

Read about career and development opportunities and discover how gaining industry experience could help you.

International students

International students

We have a strong international student community. Find all the practical advice and information you need here.