Forensic anthropologists take the skills that anthropologists use to study
the skeletal remains of ancient cultures and apply them to today's unsolved
crimes and mysteries.
They often work for police and security forces to help solve specific crimes.
Most don't hold full-time investigative positions, but instead work at crimes
on a freelance basis. The rest of the time, they work at universities or museums,
where they conduct more routine research until their skills are needed.
Some may consult on an hourly basis, but consulting work can be unstable
and unreliable. Consultants must be prepared to work internationally in order
to make a living.
Mark Skinner is an associate professor of physical anthropology. He also
works for the police, who use his expertise to identify when and how people
"There are very few that make a living as consultants, and those that do
work internationally. It can take you a year to get paid....The actual money
that you're earning per hour is very good sometimes, but typically it's very
sporadic....You have to wait a long time between jobs sometimes," says Skinner.
Technology is changing the field. Computers that can reproduce a person's
face based on bone structure and other data can now create composite sketches.
And the ability to scan and match dental records and fingerprints helps make
finding a person's identity less time-consuming.
Though forensic anthropologists often play a key role in solving crimes,
much of their work isn't glamorous at all. According to professor and consultant
Karen Burns, recent media publicity has earned the field a lot of attention.
Burns warns that forensic anthropology is not a field to jump into, regardless
of the excitement fostered by the media. In other words, you should do some
hands-on investigating before deciding that it's right for you.
"I like very much what I do, but I would not recommend it to an unsuspecting...student
under any circumstances, because it's like recommending that they leap to
the end of the branch on the tree without climbing the trunk."