Existing certification schemes



  • In 2012 there has been only one active certification agency for forensic anthropology – the American Board of Forensic Anthropology (ABFA). ABFA has been established in 1977 with the aim to encourage the study and practice of, establish and enhance standards for, and generally advance the science of forensic anthropology.

The certification process has been revised several times during ABFA’s existence, with the most recent revision having been approved in July 2012.

Three ABFA committees assess the professional record of education, training, experience and achievement of the applicants for certification:

1) the Application Committee consisting of of at least two individuals from the Board of Directors, which oversees the application process of candidates for certification up to the certification exam

2) the Examination Committee consisting of the Vice President and at least three members of the Board of Directors and/or Diplomates at Large, which is responsible for the execution of the Certification Examination; and

3) the Certification Committee consisting of the Treasurer and at least two individuals from the Board of Directors, which oversees the recertification of Diplomates.

Potential candidates for certification need to have a doctoral degree in anthropology with an emphasis in physical anthropologythree years of professional experience in forensic anthropology after being awarded the degree, and submit an application and associated documentation (in English). The applicant also needs to suggest the three individuals, who will each send a letter of recommendation to the Application Committee Chair of the ABFA.

The full application would include:
a) A copy of the applicant’s doctoral diploma;
b) A copy of the applicant’s curriculum vitae;
c) Three forensic case files with supporting documents that have been submitted to a medical examiner, coroner, or a law enforcement agency by the applicant.

Successful applicants must sit comprehensive written and practical examination within three years. After successfully completing the examination, the applicant will qualify as a Diplomate of the American Board of Forensic Anthropology and will be issued with a Certificate of Qualification in forensic anthropology.

The Certificate is valid for a period of three consecutive years and may be renewed in accordance with the recertification program. Fixed fees are associated with the application, examination and recertification.

The candidates for recertification must undertake a minimum of 30 hours of continuing education in forensic anthropology during the three years as ABFA Diplomates. The education activities may include attendance of regional, national and international meetings related to forensic anthropology and journal study. In addition, the Diplomates must document current involvement in one or more of forensic anthropology activities, such as forensic anthropology casework, court testimony, consultative appointments, research and publications in forensic anthropology or related fields, and teaching and lectures on topics related to forensic anthropology or similar disciplines.

There are currently about 75 Diplomates certified by ABFA, coming mostly from the USA and Canada. However, ABFA has recently opened the certification process to candidates who are not permanent residents of the United States or Canada. Potential applicants may petition the Board of Directors for a waiver to be considered for the certification examination.

More information on ABFA: http://www.theabfa.org/


  • In the USA, SWGANTH (Scientific Working Group for Forensic Anthropology) has published several documents on their webpage regarding best practice in forensic anthropology, including qualifications, proficiency testing, quality assurance, documentation, methodology, and codes of ethics and conduct. It has also recently initiated a debate about accreditation for forensic anthropology laboratories in the USA.

More information on SWGANTH: http://www.swganth.org/


  • Certification initiatives are underway in the UK and in South America. The UK certification process process has not been officially ratified yet. This accreditation process has been discussed during the BAHID 2012 Conference. The accreditation is supported by the Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI) which will be the overall governing body.  Progress to date within BAHID is an agreement for an accreditation system within the UK, the support thereof from its members and with RAI agreeing to act as overall governing body. The process has reached the end of the consultation process from its members for paper drafts. The next step will be to establish the examination process.

It is proposed that there will be three levels of Forensic Anthropology PractitionerFA I, FA II and FA III.

–  Entry into FA I will be via portfolio review, supported by two letters of reference.

–  Entry into FA II will be by written and practical examination.

–   Entry to FA III will be by case review and interview based viva voce examination.

Alll levels will be assessed for work and other professionally relevant experience. Case reviews are not limited to UK cases; international case work is equally welcomed.


  • The GfA (Gesellschaft für Anthropologie) in Germany has recently started a certification process of freelance osteoarchaeologists. The certification is based on a scoring system and the applications are assessed by a three-member expert panel of experienced osteoarchaeologists. The score is calculated from points assigned for education backgroundexperience with evaluation and excavation of historic skeletal series, research experience and publication list. The candidates need to submit two examples of their work in the form of reports and also summarise the methods they use for analysis.

More informationa on GfA : http://www.gfanet.de/

Level 1 – Undergraduate, BSc, MA, MS, in physical anthropology or related fields plus participation at a forensic anthropology workshop.

Level 2 –  recent PhD or MD graduate with significant education in Forensic Anthropology. The PhD has to be in physical/biological anthropology or closely related fields with significant emphasis on forensic anthropology, human osteology, skeletal biology, human variation, human anatomy, and/or statistics.

Level 3 – PhD  in forensic anthropology or closely related discipline or MD with specialization in forensic pathology/legal medicine,  with a minimum of 5 years post PhD/MD case experience nominated by judges or by other experts nominated by them (when applicable).