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.

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 500-750 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

Should you have any questions regarding this program, the admissions process, graduate financial aid or to set up a campus tour, please contact the Office of Graduate and Continuing Education. 

Contact Us

Allison Byrnes
Staff Archaeologist, Lithic Analyst, Lecturer
Office: Zurn 69
Phone: 814-824-2581