become an anthropologist

What does a Anthropologist do?

An anthropologist is interested in the origins, cultures, customs, and connections humans have with one another. They study these areas by researching, collecting, and evaluating information of humankind. There are also four subfields of anthropology: archaeology, biological anthropology, cultural anthropology, and linguistic anthropology. There are also forensic anthropologist (also known as a biological anthropologists), that study human remains by gathering information from modern and ancient bones.

Watch a video to learn what an anthropologist does:

How to Become an Anthropologist

Most anthropologists pursue a degree in anthropology or social sciences. You must first earn a bachelor’s degree and then move on to earn a master’s. All programs include an internship that gives students experience, some may even require you to write a thesis prior to graduating with your degree. Students can also volunteer at museums or even historical buildings to gain experience.

To advance beyond entry level positions some earn a doctorate degree. A master’s degree usually take 2 years and then it can take another 4-5 years to earn your doctorate. There may also be specific areas of anthropology you want to focus on. For example, you can focus on biophysical (also known as forensics), sociocultural, linguistics, or archaeological anthropology. Coursework in a specialty usually occurs at the graduate level.

Forensic anthropologists also learn about bloodstain pattern analysts and may need to use X-rays, CT scans, and high-powered microscopes. These anthropologists use DNA to confirm relationships of old remains with deceased or living descendants. They also need to do chemical analyses to determine age and diet. A forensic anthropologist needs to have analytical and problem-solving skills and must be organized and methodical in record keeping and tagging evidence.

Job Description of an Anthropologist

Tasks can vary greatly depending on the anthropologists area of focus. Though the most common area of study is human development and behaviors. Some anthropologists may investigate and study human remains to determine their origins and way of life while others may learn about current languages in a particular culture and how those languages changed over time. Some anthropologists study and observe cultures in economical and geographical settings to determine differences. Lastly, what most individuals relate anthropology to is studying artifacts, jewelry, pottery, or even tools that an archeologist may have dug up. All anthropologist collect, analyze and draw conclusions these findings.

Anthropologist many times must know other languages and be analytical problem solvers. They document findings and have to be very organized and methodical in their recordings. Many times they work with other cultures, therefore they must also have strong communication skills and be culturally sensitive. Most anthropologist work full time, though hours can be flexible they often work more than a regular work week exceeding more than 40 hours. They often times work in the field and can work in harsh outdoor conditions. Many times that travel internationally and work very closely with archeologist. Libraries, offices, and classroom are common locations visited by anthropologist as well.

Forensic anthropologists have a different type of job. Most of us have seen those television shows and movies with forensic anthropologists investigating crime scenes with law enforcement to identify skeletal remains. Though the film may add music and drama, the job skills are reasonably accurate! The forensic anthropologist identifies a bones’ sex, age, diet, manner of death, race, and health at the time of death. The specialty of forensic scientists determines the tasks they perform. Still, essentially they have the job of gathering all the facts available to them to identify the victim or person. They can work with ancient ruins, modern crime scenes with law enforcement agencies, perform academic research, or teach in colleges or universities. They can work for Natural History Museums or the military. In each case, bones are the focus of the job!

Forensic anthropologists use facial reconstruction by superimposing photos of missing people or those hard to identify due to extreme violence using the bone structure and facial tissue. Awesome, right? They take soil samples that encase the bones and any other fragments available, like pottery, glass, fabric, or bullets, and other evidence that can lead them to solutions, like digging instruments. The samples are vital to the investigation and detailed drawings of the area. The forensic scientists collaborate with law enforcement, other cultures, and other professionals when identifying remains. They testify in criminal trials for law enforcement.

Forensic anthropologists determine trauma, wounds, poisons, starvation, and other helpful information. The duties of the anthropologist involve research and modern techniques, like X-rays, CT scans, DNA, or the condition of teeth, such as abnormalities in a child or adult. Some forensic anthropologists think of bones as time capsules or time travel. They analyze skeletal remains that are centuries old, discovering who, how, when, sex, age, race, and culture, all the way to modern-day investigation. Forensic anthropologists are storytellers about life years ago in lands far away or current times close to home. We wish you success in your career choice!

Free Student and Teacher Resources

Visit the American Anthropological Association Resources for High School Students page (link opens in a new tab). This website also lists internship and scholarship opportunities. Alternately, there is a free Online Course on Anthropology offered by the The University of Queensland Australia. Visit the Anthropology of Current World Issues course on EdX.org course page to learn more.

Anthropologist Career Video Transcript

Where did human life begin? How did world cultures evolve? What impact have natural disasters had on people and civilization? Anthropologists and archaeologists explore these types of questions to learn about human history, and bring insight to current issues. Anthropologists and archaeologists study the cultures, languages, archaeological remains, and physical characteristics of people across the world and through time. Typically, they conduct research to answer questions and test hypotheses about human behavior and culture. Data collection and analysis form the core of their work. Their projects may result in published research or reports on the impact of potential land-use policies, healthcare programs, or even products.

Most anthropologists work either in research organizations, for government, or at consulting firms. Archaeologists focus on physical findings; they analyze human remains and artifacts such as tools, pottery, cave paintings, and ruins. They also preserve artifacts, and interpret their significance through their knowledge of related historical information. Archaeologists work in museums, at historical sites, and for government agencies. They also work for cultural resource management firms that identify and preserve archaeological sites and ensure compliance with regulations. Anthropologists and archeologists need a master’s degree or Ph.D. in anthropology or archeology. Fieldwork experience, either in the United States or abroad, is important for both disciplines. Bachelor’s degree holders may find work as assistants or fieldworkers.

Article Citations

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Anthropologists and Archeologists.
  • National Center for O*NET Development. 19-3091.01. O*NET OnLine.
  • The career video is Public Domain from the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.

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