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MSc Forensic Archaeology

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

Forensic Archaeology involves the use of archaeological principles and techniques for the location, recovery, and interpretation of evidence for past events within the constraints of the criminal justice system. It utilises both field and laboratory skills in the investigation of serious crime, missing persons, human rights and mass disasters. These skills range from searching for and excavating clandestine graves to the international investigation of crimes against humanity.

The course provides invaluable background knowledge in archaeological and forensic sciences required for criminal and human identification cases, integrating archaeological, anthropological and investigative disciplines. The course is delivered by leading practitioners who will develop and enhance your employability.

Our forensic archaeology course is unique in that it provides you with the opportunity to work with specialist equipment independently and provides you with a wealth of practical exercises simulating forensic scenarios, such as locating graves and managing an airplane crash. The course is also supported by a crime scene house, analytical labs, with extensive osteological rooms, skeletal collections, survey, excavation and geophysical equipment, geographic information systems (GIS), spatial information and cartographic suite.

Master's degrees in sciences

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

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, Archaeological sciences, Anthropology, Forensic science, Geology, Biology, Chemistry, Physics or Psychology

Entry requirements:

A Bachelors Honours degree with 2:2 or equivalent in a required subject. If English is not your first language you'll need IELTS (Academic) 6.5 with a minimum of 5.5 in each component of writing, speaking, listening and reading. For more information check out our full entry requirements.

Course details

Semester 1

Core units

  • Forensic Archaeology: This lecture-based unit explores the principles, techniques and methodologies of traditional archaeological practices when they are adapted to use in forensic contexts. Theoretical and practical concepts of archaeology such as stratigraphy, remote sensing, geophysical survey, search, location, recovery and dating techniques are covered. The application of these methods to forensic scenes is demonstrated through a series of domestic and international case studies. Techniques employed in the excavation of single and mass graves are also explored.

  • Advanced Forensic Archaeology: An introduction to a range of practical field skills which build on the theory you gained from the Forensic Archaeology unit. You'll develop higher levels of technical knowledge and practical experience in mapping - including using geographical information systems (GIS) - topographical survey, search (including using geophysical surveys) and excavation techniques. There's an emphasis practicing finding and excavating burials and recovering human remains, along with associated forensic evidence and analysis and reporting such evidence.

  • 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 the principles and application of biological profiling from the skeleton. Characteristics covered include age-at death, biological sex, stature and metric and non-metric variation. You'll also get a general introduction to skeletal anatomy, the sub-adult skeleton and the dentition and differences between human and non-human animal bone. The unit functions as a self-contained introduction to human osteology at Master's level which can stand alone or form the foundation for more advanced study of human skeletal remains.

  • Professional Practice in Forensic Science: Gain the necessary experience, theoretical understanding and practical skills for presenting subject specific material to the courts. You'll become trained in expert witness and courtroom skills, legal and practical aspects of evidence and gain an understanding of pre-trial duties, courtroom procedures, lawyers’ requirements, and preparing and structuring the expert witness’ report. This unit will be delivered through a combination of lectures, training in court room skills and practical exercises involving simulated forensic investigations.

Option units

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

You'll choose one of the following units

  • 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. This includes considering developmental processes in the human skeleton and understanding biomechanical approaches to human movement.

  • Marine Environment, Heritage & Spatial Planning: Environmental changes in the marine environment have affected the degradation and preservation of underwater heritage. This unit, which may involve field trips, will help you understand the effect of physical, chemical and biological damage to the historic environment and natural hazards to historical and archaeological sites in coastal and shallow marine environments. After completing this unit, you'll be able to manage in situ degradation and the protection of underwater archaeological sites, and appraise mitigation methods for preserving our underwater cultural heritage in situ.

  • 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.

  • 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:

  • Advanced Zooarchaeology: Your identification skills will be put to practice during this explorative unit of a diverse range of skeletal remains. You will evaluate the potential of archaeological data and consider ways in which you can put together an appropriate programme of post-excavation analysis and design a suitable recording scheme for a selected body of material.

  • Crime Scene Management: Understand the developing nature of crime scene, major incident and disaster management and how expertise from a range of disciplines is used 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 service and crime scene protocols that forensic scientists operate in, and is delivered through lectures and practical exercises to demonstrate and test the processes of crime scene control and emergency management. We invite experts in the field to speak about their role in crime scene management and investigations, and normally run a joint air-crash practice exercise with Bournemouth Airport.

  • 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.

Semester 2

  • 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.

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 Archaeology.

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.

Full entry requirements

The normal requirements for embarking upon this course are:

  • A Bachelors Honours degree with 2:2 or equivalent in a required subject

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 with a minimum of 5.5 in each component of writing, speaking, listening and reading 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.


Forensic archaeology is an expanding international field. Upon completion of the course you will join other BU graduates who are acknowledged as some of the most experienced forensic archaeologists in the field. This will open up a wide range of career prospects for you, and you could end up work anywhere in the world examining crime scenes, mass graves & disasters and educating other researchers in new forensic science approaches.

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

  • Forensic archaeologist
  • Human rights investigator
  • Police officer
  • Medical examiner
  • Lecturer.

Industries worked in

  • Forensic organisations
  • Police force
  • Education
  • 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.

Meet our staff

Paul Cheetham is the programme leader.  Paul has specialised in archaeological geophysics since 1989. He regularly undertakes archaeological geophysical surveys and archaeological excavations of sites of all periods in the UK and Europe; his research is focused on the late Iron Age and Romano-British settlement in Dorset. Paul is a co-director of the Durotriges Project.

He has worked on over 50 domestic homicide cases in a search and recovery capacity, and has been involved in locating mass graves in Kosovo, Iraq and Ukraine. He has published a number of papers on search and recovery techniques in forensic contexts.

You can find out more about Paul's research interests online, or contact him by email: 

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.

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 details of these if you are offered a place on the course.

  • 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 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.

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 graduates think

Amit Sarkar

Whilst at BU I gained many skills, such as the ability to apply a high degree of academic rigour to the content and quality of police reports required for court.


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.

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.