Forensic Osteology and Field Recovery Methods - MSc

Develop the practical skills required to excavate and analyse human remains in the field. You also have the opportunity to access one of the largest human skeletal collections in the UK, with extensive skeletal pathology and accompanying radiographs.

Overview

Gain the theoretical knowledge and techniques needed to reconstruct biological profiles from hard tissue and apply this to your fieldwork. Explore the challenges of mass disasters, burials and skeletal diseases through different scientific approaches and benefit from our active research culture.

Reasons to study Forensic Osteology at Kent

  • In the recent Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021, 100% of our Anthropology and development studies research was classified as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’ for environment. Following the REF 2021, Anthropology and development studies was ranked 14th in the UK in the Times Higher Education.
  • The School of Anthropology and Conservation houses the Skeletal Biology Research Centre (SBRC) which brings together innovative research, novel methodologies, and international collaborations. Kent Osteological Research and Analysis (KORA) is an enterprise unit based within SBRC that offers osteological analyses of human skeletal remains.
  • Learn from a team of internationally respected academics with extensive professional experience.
  • You’ll have access to state-of-the-art laboratory facilities.
  • Expert training in a range of research methods to prepare you for independent research.
  • You’ll be supported by the Graduate and Researcher College as well as the School of Anthropology and Conservation. You are joining a strong intellectual and social community.

What you'll learn

Supported by laboratory and practical based training, you will deepen your knowledge of osteology and anatomy, taphonomy, growth and disease of the human skeleton and forensic identification. You will learn relevant topics, opinions and methodologies in your area of research and develop your analysis and identification skills in your fieldwork.

Entry requirements

A first or second class honours degree in biological anthropology or other associated fields (eg., Forensic Science; Archaeology; Anatomy). In certain circumstances, we will consider students who have not followed a conventional education path. These cases are assessed individually by the Director of Graduate Studies and the Programme Convenor, Dr Chris Deter C.A.Deter@kent.ac.uk

All applicants are considered on an individual basis and additional qualifications, professional qualifications and relevant experience may also be taken into account when considering applications. 

International students

Please see our International Student website for entry requirements by country and other relevant information. Due to visa restrictions, students who require a student visa to study cannot study part-time unless undertaking a distance or blended-learning programme with no on-campus provision.

English language entry requirements

The University requires all non-native speakers of English to reach a minimum standard of proficiency in written and spoken English before beginning a postgraduate degree. Certain subjects require a higher level.

For detailed information see our English language requirements web pages. 

Need help with English?

Please note that if you are required to meet an English language condition, we offer a number of pre-sessional courses in English for Academic Purposes through Kent International Pathways.

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Course structure

Duration: 1 year full-time, 2 years part-time

Modules

The following modules are indicative of those offered on this programme. This list is based on the current curriculum and may change year to year in response to new curriculum developments and innovation.  Most programmes will require you to study a combination of compulsory and optional modules. You may also have the option to take modules from other programmes so that you may customise your programme and explore other subject areas that interest you.

For detailed information about the modules offered by this programme please contact the programme convenor: Dr Chris Deter C.A.Deter@kent.ac.uk

Compulsory modules currently include

This module will introduce students to research design and hypothesis testing, drawing upon the different scientific approaches used in biological and forensic anthropology. Core statistical components, such as inference for parametric statistical testing, will be covered. This module will have an extensive, computer practical-based component that will enable students to run advanced statistical tests (univariate and multivariate), which will be supported by lectures. Upon completion students will understand the principle qualitative and quantitative analytical approaches to research, and the best ways of presenting results.

Find out more about SACO8120

In this module students are introduced to the human skeleton (adult and juvenile) and soft tissue (major muscle groups) identification. They are provided with in depth information on how to identify individual bones (complete and fragmented), how to side paired bones by being familiarly with all pertinent landmarks on the bone. Students will gain advanced knowledge of the origin and insertion of all major muscle groups. They will be introduced to size and shape variation present in the human skeleton including variations due to biological sex, ethnic affinity and temporal changes.

Find out more about SACO8140

This module is fundamental to this MSc where students learn various stages of post-mortem decay to human remains, focusing largely on environmental effects—including decomposition in soil and interaction with plants, insects, and other animals. Other topics covered are; PMI methods (time elapsed since death), biotaphonomy, and geotaphonomy.

Find out more about SACO8150

This module is largely a practical based module where students learn and practice methods of human identification, specifically methods used to build a biological profile, estimate age at death, biological sex, and stature. This module will run alongside Advanced Human Osteology and Anatomy, so as specific bone identification is being taught, relevant identification methods will correspond. Students will learn how to identify multiple number of individuals, DVI, and be introduced to the most up-to-date biometric identification methods and the varied reasons why identification of the living and the dead is vital in criminal investigations.

Find out more about SACO8160

This module provides you with an in-depth knowledge of the histological mechanisms underpinning the growth of human bones and teeth, linked to diseases processes. This provides a foundation to identify the surface manifestations of disease that can be seen macroscopically. You will learn the criteria needed to identify a selection of skeletal diseases. Upon completion, you will have gained theoretical knowledge about the causes of disease, and practical 'hands on' experience identifying and diagnosing skeletal disease, both microscopically and macroscopically.

Find out more about SACO8170

This module will teach you the steps from finding human remains (mapping and carrying out a survey) to taking the remains into the lab for analysis. You will gain experience in designing and laying out an excavation grid, learning how to record and photograph human remains and contextual evidence found in the field. Finally you will have hands on learning experience in recording and bagging the finds and creating a chain of evidence. This module will look at the challenges of a single and multiple burials and mass disasters.

Find out more about SACO8190

This module is an advanced treatment of current topics and debates in contemporary science broadly related to various aspects of anthropology and the human sciences. Emphasis is on scientific advances and changes during the past decade, and on the directions of future research. The goal of this course is to understand, and present on scientific topics and, specifically, how research and publication works in a scientific context . You will be exposed to a broad series of topics, opinions, methodologies, journal articles, and ideas in numerous highly relevant fields of research. Seminars will critically examine classic and recent journal articles, considering the quality of research and presentation.

Find out more about SACO9920

Compulsory modules currently include

The dissertation project is a piece of independent research carried out by the student. Before undertaking the research, students are trained in research design and planning, statistical analysis and writing skills. A project supervisor is allocated to each student and students are expected to produce a research plan and budget for their proposed programme of research in conjunction with the supervisor. Students will intensively discuss methods of data collection, theoretical models for the analysis of this material, and the use and integration of research methods into both its preparation and its final presentation with his or her supervisor. The programme of research may consist of a literature review, analysis of existing data sets, analysis of newly-collected field or laboratory data. The student will work independently on the dissertation over the summer term and summer vacation until early September when it will be submitted. The topic of the dissertation must be directly relevant to the programme of study.

Find out more about SACO8130

Teaching

Teaching and assessment

Modules are taught using a variety of methods including practical based modules taught in the field, lectures and seminars, demonstration, group projects, weekly bone quizzesand practical lab sessions that are supported through textbooks. Current journal articles on methodologies and theories support both the labs and lectures.  

Assessment will be though practical demonstrations during lab sessions, lab reports, independent and group course work exercises and research dissertations. 

Programme aims

The programme aims to:

  • Provide an excellent standard of higher education.
  • Provide teaching informed by research and scholarship.
  • Develop a sound knowledge of laboratory-based scientific methods, and other skills, which will be of value within forensic osteology, but can also be transferred to archaeology, biological anthropology, and bioarchaeology.
  • Develop an awareness of professional and ethical standards and practices.  
  • Attain a deep knowledge, and experience of, techniques relevant to forensic osteology, as well as their practical application.
  • Critical awareness of, and engagement with, current research methods and techniques.
  • Develop the ability to learn independently.
  • Prepare students for employment, or further post-graduate doctoral study in Forensics, Biological Anthropology, and Archaeology.  
  • Provide learning opportunities that are enjoyable, involve realistic workloads, based within a practical framework, with appropriate support for students from diverse backgrounds.
  • Provide high quality teaching in a supportive environment with appropriately qualified and trained staff.

Learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding

You gain knowledge and understanding of:

  • Field recovery of human remains
  • Identification of human hard and soft tissue
  • Analysis of human hard tissue

Intellectual skills

You develop intellectual skills in:

  • Quantitative analysis
  • Problem solving 
  • Practical skills

Subject-specific skills

You gain the following subject-specific skills:

  • Skeletal identification
  • Biological profiling
  • Field recovery and laboratory skills 

Transferable skills

You gain the following transferrable skills:

  • Communication both orally and in writing
  • Independent learning ability required for continued professional development

Fees

The 2023/24 annual tuition fees for this course are:

  • Home full-time £10700
  • EU full-time £16400
  • International full-time £21900
  • Home part-time £5350
  • EU part-time £8200
  • International part-time £10950

For details of when and how to pay fees and charges, please see our Student Finance Guide.

For students continuing on this programme fees will increase year on year by no more than RPI + 3% in each academic year of study except where regulated.* If you are uncertain about your fee status please contact information@kent.ac.uk.

Your fee status

The University will assess your fee status as part of the application process. If you are uncertain about your fee status you may wish to seek advice from UKCISA before applying.

Additional costs

General additional costs

Find out more about general additional costs that you may pay when studying at Kent. 

Funding

Search our scholarships finder for possible funding opportunities. You may find it helpful to look at both:

We have a range of subject-specific awards and scholarships for academic, sporting and musical achievement.

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Independent rankings

In the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021, 100% of our Anthropology and development studies research was classified as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’ for environment. 

Following the REF 2021, Anthropology and development studies was ranked 14th in the UK in the Times Higher Education.

Research

Research areas

Dynamic publishing culture

Staff publish regularly and widely in journals, conference proceedings and books. Among others, they have recently contributed to: American EthnologistCurrent AnthropologyJournal of the Royal Anthropological InstituteAmerican Journal of Physical AnthropologyProceedings of the Royal Society B; and Journal of Human Evolution.

Biological Anthropology

Our research encompasses a broad range of topics within biological and evolutionary anthropology, including bioarchaeology, forensic anthropology, archaeological science, human reproductive strategies, hominin evolution, primate behaviour and ecology, modern human variation, and cultural. We have three dedicated research laboratories, as well as a commercial osteology unit. 

Our research takes us to many regions of the world (Asia, Africa, Europe, South America and United States).  We collaborate with international research organisations, including the Instituto de Biología Subtropical (Argentina), German Primate Center, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, and Budongo Conservation Field Station (Uganda).  Members of staff provide a wide research network offering research opportunities in Africa, Southeast Asia and South America.

Skeletal Biology

Our Skeletal Biology Research Centre is the only UK Centre focusing on analysis of biological hard tissues (bones and teeth). It brings together innovative research, novel methodologies and international collaborations, with expertise and resources from Physical Sciences and Biosciences at Kent, and the Powell-Cotton Museum. Research ranges from analyses of the most important human fossils, histological studies of teeth and bone, isotopic analyses and dietary reconstruction, virtual 3D analyses of the skeleton, and forensic identification that together ultimately aim to better understand humans and our evolutionary history.

Primatology

The Living Primates Research Group fosters research into the behaviour and ecology of primates. It addresses questions concerning adaptation using living primates as model species, to provide a comparative framework for the understanding of human biology and behaviour, and investigate the biological and social dimensions of anthropogenic impacts on non-human primates (NHPs). Research ranges from functional morphology to behavioural ecology and physiology, cultural primatology, and the interplay of primate biology, ecology and conservation, including primate rehabilitation and reintroduction and human-NHP coexistence. 

Social Anthropology

The regional expertise of our staff has a global reach, with field sites in Europe (including UK), the Middle East, the Balkans, South Asia, Amazonia and Central America, Oceania and Southeast Asia. Themes of conflict, violence, the economic crisis and precarity form a major focus of our current work in these areas, alongside new research on austerity and its social impact, and charity. We have emerging interests in social inequality, work, and organised crime and corruption; and are internationally recognised for our work on ethnicity, nationalism, and identity.

Our research extends to intercommunal violence, diasporas, pilgrimage, intercommunal trade, urban ethnogenesis, indigenous representation and the study of contemporary religions and their global connections (especially Islam). History and heritage is another key theme, with related interests in time and temporality, and the School hosts the leading journal History and Anthropology. Other research addresses the anthropology of natural resources; anthropology of tourism; and post-socialist economy and society in Europe and Central Asia.

We research issues in fieldwork and methodology more generally, with a strong interest in the field of visual anthropology. Our work on identity and locality links with growing strengths in kinship and parenthood. This is complemented by work on the language of relatedness, and the cognitive bases of kinship terminologies

A final focus concerns science, medical anthropology and contemporary society. We work on the anthropology of business, biotechnology, and mental health. Related research focuses on policy and advocacy issues and examines the connections between public health policy and local healing strategies. Staff collaborations and networks extend widely across these regions and thematic interests, and Kent is well-known for its pioneering engagement with the anthropology of Europe.

Careers

Higher degrees in forensic anthropology create opportunities in many employment sectors including academia, archaeology, police sector, the civil service and non-governmental organizations through work in areas such as human rights. A forensic anthropology degree also develops interpersonal and intercultural skills, which make our graduates highly desirable in any profession that involves working with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures.

As a School recognised for its excellence in research we are one of the partners in the South East Doctoral Training Centre, which is recognised by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). This relationship ensures that successful completion of our courses is sufficient preparation for research in the various fields of social anthropology. Many of our students go on to do PhD research. Others use their Master’s qualification in employment ranging from research in government departments to teaching to consultancy work overseas.

Study support

Postgraduate resources

The School has a lively postgraduate community drawn together not only by shared resources such as postgraduate rooms, computer facilities (with a dedicated IT officer) and laboratories, but also by student-led events, societies, staff/postgraduate seminars, weekly research student seminars and a number of special lectures.

The School houses well-equipped research laboratories for genetics, ecology, visual anthropology, virtual paleoanthropology, Animal Postcranial Evolution, biological anthropology, anthropological computing, botany, osteology and ethnobiology. The state-of-the-art visual anthropology laboratory is stocked with digital editing programmes and other facilities for digital video and photographic work, and has a photographic darkroom for analogue developing and printing. 

Kent has outstanding anthropology IT facilities. Over the last decade, the School has been associated with many innovatory projects, particularly in the field of cognitive anthropology. It provides an electronic information service to other anthropology departments, for example by hosting both the Anthropological Index Online and Experience-Rich Anthropology project. We encourage all students to use the Centre’s facilities (no previous experience or training is necessary).

Anthropology at Kent has close links with the nearby Powell-Cotton Museum, which has one of the largest ethnographic collections in the British Isles and is particularly strong in sub-Saharan African and Southeast Asian material. It also houses an extensive comparative collection of primate and other mammalian material. Human skeletal material is housed at the Kent Osteological Research and Analysis Centre within the School.

Anthropology, together with the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) form the School of Anthropology and Conservation.

Global Skills Award

All students registered for a taught Master's programme are eligible to apply for a place on our Global Skills Award Programme. The programme is designed to broaden your understanding of global issues and current affairs as well as to develop personal skills which will enhance your employability.  

Apply now

Learn more about the application process or begin your application by clicking on a link below.

You will be able to choose your preferred year of entry once you have started your application. You can also save and return to your application at any time.

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