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MSc Forensic Anthropology

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

Our Forensic Anthropology course is concerned with the application of biological anthropological techniques to the analysis of human skeletal remains within a legal context and provides a vital suite of expertise and skills that can be applied to answer both modern and archaeological questions.

Specialist anthropological skills can contribute, not only to our understanding of the past, but also to the effective investigation of serious incidents in the modern world, particularly murder, genocide and human rights violations within the constraints of the criminal justice system. Such skills have also proved increasingly useful in recent years in the wake of mass disasters, both natural and man-made.

Master's degrees in sciences

Please watch the recorded BU Webinar 'Masters Degrees in Sciences'. Presented by Paul Kneller, Senior Lecturer in Forensic Science at the Faculty of Science & Technology, this webinar will give you an excellent insight into the Faculty of Science & Technology postgraduate courses that BU offer. Click here to watch.

Interested in studying this course part-time? Enquire now.

Key information

Next start date:

September 2018, September 2019


Bournemouth University, Talbot Campus


1 year full-time, or 2 years part-time


The Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences

Required subjects:

Archaeology, Forensic science, Biological sciences or Biological anthropology

Entry requirements:

A Bachelors Honours degree with 2:2 in a required subject, or equivalent. 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 content

Semester 1

Core units

  • Bodies of Evidence - Skeletal Changes Before & After Death: There's an emphasis on skeletonised remains and interpreting material from forensic contexts and the unit will be relevant to archaeological material and consider soft tissue remains. It will also look at the changes that take place during an individual’s life and after death that produce variations in the nature and appearance of the skeleton. You'll learn about ways skeletal samples can be investigated statistically at the level of populations, and ways of report writing.

  • Crime Scene Management & Forensic Science: Understand the developing nature of crime scene, major incident and disaster management and how expertise from a range of disciplines is applied to analyse crime scenes. This unit provides an introduction to national and international criminal law and humanitarian and human rights law. It also covers the structure of the Police Force and scene of crime protocols, within which forensic scientists operate and is delivered through lectures and practical exercises to demonstrate and test the processes of crime scene control and emergency management.

  • Human Functional Anatomy: 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. You'll develop proficiency in distinguishing morphological variation, gain a working knowledge of human functional anatomy and learn about biomechanical approaches to human movement.

  • Principles & Methods in Human Osteology: An introduction to the basic principles of analysis and interpretation involved in studying skeletal remains of modern humans from archaeological and forensic contexts. This covers biological profiling from the skeleton. You'll also be introduced to skeletal anatomy, the sub-adult skeleton and the dentition and differences between human and non-human animal bone.

  • Professional Practice in Forensic Science: Develop the experience, theoretical understanding and practical skills necessary for presenting subject specific material to the courts. Gain expert witness and courtroom skills, learn about legal and practical aspects of evidence and develop an understanding of pre-trial duties, courtroom procedures, lawyers’ requirements and preparing and structuring the expert witness’ report. You'll be trained in courtroom skills and practical exercises involving simulated forensic investigations. Simulations are tailored to each degree taking the unit. As an anthropologist, you'll undertake the only simulated mass grave exercise currently offered on a UK Master's programme.

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

Option units (choose one):

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

  • Forensic Archaeology: Explore the principles, techniques and methodologies of Traditional Archaeological practices adapted for forensic contexts. Stratigraphy, remote sensing, geophysical survey, search, location, recovery and dating techniques are covered. These methods are applied to forensic scenes through a series of domestic and international case studies. You'll also explore techniques for excavating single and mass graves.

  • Techniques of Archaeological Recovery & Recording: Take part in field work exercises and practical demonstrations to gain grounding in the principal range of methods involved in archaeological field recording and recovery. You'll learn the principles of location, survey, excavation, planning and recording of archaeological finds and features. You will also learn about the planning of field projects, including health & safety and budgeting.

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 Forensic 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.

Selection criteria

Background and experience

For Forensic Anthropology we are looking for applicants who:

  • Are enthusiastic about issues relating to the theory and practice of the application of biological anthropology to forensic investigations
  • Are keen on practical learning in a laboratory environment
  • Are keen to apply the skills they gain on their degree course to practice in a professional sphere
  • Can demonstrate an academic interest and ability in sciences relevant to forensic anthropology by having suitable prior experience and/or qualifications – most likely 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 or anatomy.

We are looking for students who are keen to develop their intellectual skills by gaining a solid grounding in a range of aspects of biological anthropology and its specific application in forensic contexts. We particularly encourage applications from people who have an enthusiasm for developing critical thinking and observational skills and who would like to develop these skills with a view to working within a wider multidisciplinary team. Such qualities comprise transferable skills that appeal to a range of employers. Students on this degree course will typically have backgrounds in archaeology or forensic science.

Selection methods

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

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

Full entry requirements

The normal requirements for embarking upon this course are:

  • Possession of a 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 Future Students Enquiry Team 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 Future Students Enquiry Team 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 Forensic Anthropology graduates embark on a career in teaching or future research, however there are many and varied professional opportunities. Specialist anthropological skills can contribute not only to our understanding of the past, but also to the effective investigation of serious incidents in the modern world such as both natural and man-made mass disasters. Forensic Anthropology graduates can therefore enjoy a wide range of career opportunities in a range of disciplines.

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

  • Forensic scientist
  • Anthropologist
  • Criminologist
  • Lecturer
  • Academic researcher.

Industries worked in

  • Forensic corporations
  • Non-profit organisations
  • Non-governmental organisations
  • Museums
  • Education.

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

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.

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

  • Loan of lab coats and safety glasses

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, many of these are included on the Next Steps insert enclosed with your offer letter.

  • One set of study-related consumables such as a memory stick/ DVD
  • Materials for laboratory and field-based teaching activity
  • Support for placements (UK or abroad) and fieldwork, and non-financial support whilst on placement
  • 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 webpages
  • Optional 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 (with or without attendance), 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.

Meet our staff

Dr Martin Smith, the course leader, is a Biological Anthropologist with particular interests in prehistoric populations. His interests centre principally on areas of taphonomy and trauma with relevance to both forensic and archaeological remains. Martin has strong interests in the study of conflict from prehistoric to modern times. A question that continues to fascinate him is the extent to which war /organized conflict is ‘hard-wired’ in human beings rather than simply a practical response to environmental or social circumstances. Ethical questions concerning human remains have become particularly prominent in recent years. Martin has repeatedly involved himself in current debates over the retention of skeletal assemblages and maintains the importance of keeping such collections, as once reburied they are effectively gone forever...

Dr Ellen Hambleton specialises in the study of animal remains. She was Principal Investigator for the review of late Bronze Age and Iron Age faunal remains from Southern England, commissioned by English Heritage and is the co-director of a BU project investigating the social, political and economic landscape of the Durotriges in later Prehistoric and Roman Britain.

You can read more about the staff in the Department of Archaeology, Anthropology & Forensic Science and register now to meet them at an open day.

Hear from our staff

Dr Martin Smith

What we are most proud of is the way our past students have gone on to make a difference in the world in a wide range of roles and locations both here in the UK and internationally.

What our graduates think

Reuben Moreton

In my current role I manage all the image comparison cases for the a police service, ranging from facial image comparison to firearm, clothing and vehicle comparison.


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.

Forensics laboratory

Forensics lab

Learn about the latest equipment we have in our forensics lab and find out how it can prepare you for work.

Crime scene training facility

Crime scene training facility

Find out more about our crime scene training facility, where you can gain practical experience of forensic fieldwork.

Additional information

Simon Phelps

Career development

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

Purbeck House common room

International students

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