Graduate Studies

Mission Statements

The Master of Science degree program in Anthropology, Forensic and Biological Anthropology concentration is focused on providing students with a comprehensive training regimen in the combined fields of forensic anthropology and biological anthropology. Students receive extensive training in the classroom, field and laboratory that allows them to be strongly competitive for Ph.D. programs in physical or biological anthropology, anatomy and biostatistics. The program is enhanced by the large amount of forensic casework opportunities the Department of Applied Forensic Sciences provides for students, which allow them to gain real first-hand experience in outdoor crime scene recoveries and analysis of recovered remains, skills that are expected of forensic anthropologists. Students are taught the importance of ethics in forensic science and the significance of their personal role in the forensic science community.

Our Archaeology and Geoarchaeology concentrations acknowledge that It is axiomatic that we, as a species, cannot know where we are going if we do not know where we have been. The fundamental mission of the this track is to provide our students with a comprehensive, hands-on experience that explicates and contextualizes within the Catholic and Mercy tradition not only the behaviors of the actors and actresses of antiquity and the present, but the environmental stage upon which they have operated, and upon which they will operate in the future.

About Our Programs

The Forensic and Biological Anthropology track in the Master of Anthropology program at Mercyhurst University lies within the Department of Applied Forensic Sciences. This program represents the first in the country focused primarily on providing students with a comprehensive basic training regimen in the field. The program encompasses a rigorous curriculum that includes a strong grounding in biological/bioarchaeological anthropology, while emphasizing all of the major components of the forensic anthropology discipline. These components include forensic osteology, forensic archaeology, forensic taphonomy, biostatistics, and skeletal trauma.

The Archaeology track emphasizes field and laboratory data recovery, data processing and analysis, and interpretation protocols. This track capitalizes on the extraordinary facilities, extensive research opportunities, and vast methodological experiences of the teaching and research faculty to provide students with a unique, hands-on and engaged learning experience. Students are required to master by practice the field and laboratory protocols of contemporary “high-tech” archaeology in either terrestrial or marine environments. Within this track, students may choose topical specialties such as material culture studies within which they may further specialize in durable (i.e. lithics, ceramics) or non-durable (i.e. perishable) material remains. Additionally, students must select an areal focus (e.g. Eastern or Western North America, Europe, Latin America and Near East) within which they may further specialize in broad chronological periods (i.e. Historic or Prehistoric), depositional environments (terrestrial or marine), levels of socio-cultural complexity (i.e. hunter gatherers, horticulturalists, complex societies). In no case, will students be encouraged to overspecialize and a general command of the traditional four fields will be strongly encouraged. All students in this track must demonstrate thorough familiarity with contemporary archaeological theory and its relationship to the general body of anthropological theory, at large.

The Geoarchaeology track focuses on the interface between the fields of Anthropological Archaeology and Geology. Both our undergraduate archaeology curriculum, as well as our master’s track in geoarchaeology are predicated on a very close relationship between Archaeology which seeks to explain the behavior(s) of the actors and actresses of antiquity and Geology which informs about the “stage” upon which they operate. Put simply, it is our position that you cannot understand the activities of our predecessors without understanding the evolution of the landscape before, during and after the time our progenitors operated upon it. Within this track, students must choose an areal focus and should be thoroughly acquainted with a variety of environmental depositional foci ranging from all forms of terrestrial landscapes to their underwater counterparts (e.g. the submerged coastal plain). From this array of depositional environments, they may choose to concentrate on particular environmental or geomorphological “niches” such as fluvial or alluvial contexts, coastal margins, deserts, caves and rockshelters, etc. As in the Archaeology track, students are discouraged from overspecializing and are expected to demonstrate thorough familiarity with contemporary archaeological theory and its relationship to the general body of both archaeological and geological theory.

Educational Goals and Objectives

Forensic and Biological Anthropology Track Program Outcomes

Goal: Develop and master the principles and professional practices of Forensic and Biological Anthropology.

  • Competently and comprehensively document forensic context from a variety of outdoor forensic scenes.
  • Expertly analyze and interpret human skeletal remains.
  • Progress to advanced levels in the areas of skeletal biology, human anatomy, human growth and development, and human variation.
  • Proficiently process data utilizing univariate and multivariate statistical principles and analyses.
  • Critically analyze and knowledgeably utilize the historical, current, researched and published, topics in Biological and Forensic Anthropology.

Archaeology and Geoarchaeology Track Program Outcomes

Goal: Develop and master the principles and professional practices of anthropology, archaeology, and/or geoarchaeology.

  • Design archaeological, geoarchaeological and/or anthropological proposal and projects.
  • Apply GIS and statistical methods to archaeology, geoarchaeology, and/or anthropology.
  • Define and apply ethical standards in the practice of archaeology, geoarchaeology, and/or anthropology
  • Demonstrate fluency in the history of general anthropological theory and its relationship to contemporary archaeology, geoarchaeology, and/or anthropology
  • Prepare, assemble, and produce archaeological, anthropological, or geoarchaeological reports, publications, and theses.

Program Emphases

Forensic Archaeology:

Apply contemporary archaeological techniques during the identification, documentation, and collection of all outdoor forensic scenes, including surface scatters, buried body, fatal fire, and mass fatalities.
Critically evaluate the significance of in situ physical evidence at a variety of crime scenes.
Operate an electronic Total Station and Differential GPS unit.

Forensic Osteology:

Conduct themselves as expert osteologists with the ability to identify complete and fragmentary human remains, as well as distinguish human from non-human remains.
Estimate chronological age, sex, stature, and ancestry of human remains.
Understand the range of human variation and their associated evolutionary processes.

Skeletal Trauma Analysis:

Differentiate between antemortem, perimortem and postmortem skeletal trauma.
Provide biomechanical interpretations for traumatic forces producing defects in bones.

Forensic Taphonomy:

Interpret taphonomic modification of bones due to decomposition, heat alteration, water transport, burial factors and other enviornmental factors.

Biostatistics and Data Analysis:

Apply appropriate statistical techniques to the analysis of human skeletal remains.
Know how to properly use and apply the computer program FORDISC 3.0.
Understand rules of evidence and the basics of the American criminal justice system.
Understand the Daubert criteria as applied to the analysis of evidence and presentation in courts as well as its implications on expert witness testimony.
Critically evaluate literary sources for valid methodologies, appropriate results and applicability to topics under discussion.
Conduct research and investigation of human remains under the strict ethical guidelines currently in place in the disciplines of general science, forensic science, and forensic anthropology.

Degree Requirements

The curriculum is constructed so that full-time students will complete six required courses during the first year and seven required courses during the second year, most in a prescribed sequence. As such, students can only be admitted into the program beginning in the fall term. Selection of additional elective courses is encouraged within the context of the program. Students must obtain at least a B grade in each of the required courses. Any classes resulting in a C+ or C grade must be repeated. More than two C's in required courses will result in dismissal from the program. Students who earn a grade of B or higher in a repeated course will have their original grade replaced by a PASS on their transcript. The student will be allowed to retake only two courses and any D grade will also result in dismissal from the program. Students dropped from the program may petition for readmission after one year.

At the end of the first year, the student must take a two day comprehensive examination that is based on material covered in the first year required courses. Only students with a passing grade on this exam may enter into the second year of the program.

Students are also expected to develop a thesis topic approved by their advisor by the end of their first year. Work should begin during the summer after the first year and continue throughout the second year. The thesis must be completed within one year after the completion of course requirements. Each student’s research must contribute knowledge to the areas of forensic or biological anthropology, archaeology, or bioarchaeology. The final product must be submitted in a format suitable for publication in an approved journal or book.

Comprehensive Examination

One of the primary tools used to assess the assimilation of information presented in the curriculum of the first year of graduate study is the comprehensive examination. This examination is administered at the end of the first year of the program and consists of both written and practical components given over the course of two days. Students are tested in three main areas: forensic anthropology, forensic osteology, and biostatistics.

The first day of the examination lasts approximately eight to ten hours and is comprised of the written component of the test. This component will test the student’s knowledge of the history of the field, the current literature on forensic and biological anthropology, and the theories and standards relevant to these fields, supported by current and proper references. The second day of the comprehensive examination lasts approximately seven to eight hours and consists of three portions. The first tests the student’s knowledge of the statistical software program FORDISC 3.0. The second and third portions of the examination test the student’s practical abilities in forensic osteology, including identification of fragmentary human remains and non-human animal bones, as well as analysis of biological profile, taphonomy, and trauma.

Thesis Requirement

All students will be required to write a thesis. The topic of the thesis must be approved prior to the start of research and will focus on a topic within the purview of forensic anthropology, forensic archaeology, biological anthropology, or bioarchaeology. Student theses may also encompass other forensic sciences and aspects of forensic investigation (pending approval of a thesis topic).

Ideally, the student will narrow down his or her research during the first year of the program, and collect data the summer between the first and second years. It is expected that the student will be analyzing data during the second year and then writing and defending the thesis at the close of the second year or during the following summer. The preferred thesis product is a publishable article prepared for a recognized scientific journal.


Entrance Requirements

A total of five to seven new students will be admitted into the program each fall from a group of more than 100 applicants. Ideal candidates will have a very strong undergraduate record/degree in a field of anthropology (e.g., forensic anthropology, bioarchaeology, physical anthropology, or archaeology), natural science (e.g., biology, chemistry), mathematics, or forensic science.

Evaluation of applications will focus on:

Undergraduate Academic Record (Final grade point average, courses taken, consistency of grades from class to class including those taken outside of the major)

Graduate Record Examination (GRE) (Minimum scores required for GRE is 300 on the Revised Scale)

Professional References

Letter of Intent (Attributing to work ethic, responsibility, reliability, and academic and professional potential)

Personal Interview (Preferably in person, although phone interviews are acceptable)

1. Undergraduate Career
Students must possess a baccalaureate degree from an accredited institution. All undergraduate majors will be considered, especially those with a strong anthropology or archaeology foundation. The applicant’s experience in different fields will also be considered.

2. GRE Scores
Satisfactory scores from the Graduate Record Exam (General Test) (note that the school's requirement for GRE scores is 300 on the Revised Scale or above). Scores must be received by the school by January 15, each year. For more information about the GRE, click here.

3. Professional References
Letters of recommendation are required from three educational or professional contacts or employers who have known the applicant for a substantial amount of time on a professional basis. In addition to the letters, contacts must fill in a graduate recommendation form.

4. Letter of Intent
Applicants are required to write a 300-400 word essay outlining the student’s education and career aspirations as well as any relevant and/or interesting life experience and any additional information the applicant feels would be important to include. This may include any funding or scholarships achieved by the applicant, research projects, internships, professional meetings attended, publications, past careers, special skills, etc.

5. Personal Interview
All candidates will be requested to have an interview with the director of the program. As the master's program requires an abundance of group work, personable, adaptable students are an important asset. Compatible personalities are essential in order to produce a cohesive group and working environment.

There is a priority deadline of January 15 each year. To ensure full consideration, all applications and associated documents should be received by the Graduate Admissions Office no later than January 15 of each year.

Cost and Career Information

In compliance with the “gainful employment” regulations under Title IV of the Higher Education Act, as amended, Mercyhurst is disclosing certain cost and career information to prospective students. You can view this information by clicking here.




Contact Us

Should you have any questions regarding this program, the admissions process, graduate financial aid or to set up a campus tour, please contact us via the information below:

Office of Graduate & Continuing Education
501 East 38th St 
Erie, PA 16546
Phone: (814) 824-3351