Introduction to Anthropology


Anthroplogy is the scientific and humanistic study of mankind's past and present. The word anthropology stems from the Greek words "anthropos", meaning human, and "logia", which means study. Anthropologists work to understand human existence as it relates to both evolutionary time and geographic space. Major anthropological sub-fields include cultural anthropology, physical anthropology, archaeology, linguistics and applied anthropology.

Cultural Anthropology

  • Cultural anthropology, sometimes called social anthropology, is the discipline's largest branch in North America. Cultural anthropologists seek to understand the internal logic of societies. These anthropologists piece together cultural information by using the ethnographic method, which involves face-to-face interviews and participant observation. While the cultural anthropologists of yesteryear studied a foreign culture as a whole, today's scholar typically focuses on a narrow aspect of American life, such as art, human sexuality, gender, religion, political organization or social control.

Physical Anthropology

  • Physical anthropology, also referred to as biological anthropology, examines Homo sapiens as both a species and a genus. Physical anthropologists study the evolutionary development, biological origins and genetic diversity of human beings by examining fossilized human remains. While physical anthropology could be considered a biological science, it is typically classified as a social science because the physical aspect of mankind is being examined in the context of human behavior and culture. This field has several sub-disciplines, including primatology, medical anthropology, paleoanthropology, evolutionary biology and forensic anthropology.


  • Archeology pieces together information on past human cultures by recovering, documenting and analyzing material remains, such as artifacts, architecture and human bones. Archaeologists attempt to understand how prehistoric and historical people lived and apply this knowledge to modern societies. These anthropologists use a variety of tools in the field, including global positioning satellites (GPS), compasses, maps, magnetometers and shovels. Archaeological sub-disciplines include archaeozoology, archaeobotany, maritime archaeology and archaeoastronomy. Archeologists typically find employment at universities, museums, government agencies and research institutions.

Linguistic Anthropology

  • Linguistic anthropology examines the usage and evolution of human language across time and cultures. Linguistic anthropologists seek to understand the connections between language and human behavior. These anthropologists explore links between different cultures by examining various language components, primarily phonetics and morphology. One major branch of this field is historical linguistics, which examines the evolution of language. The second major branch is ethnolinguistics, which studies how language shapes the perspectives of a certain culture. A majority of linguistic anthropologists work at academic institutes.

Applied Anthropology

  • Applied anthropology works to solve specific human problems with anthropological methods, ethnographic findings and scientific theories. Applied anthropologists work in various fields, particularly health and medicine, education, human rights, international development and business. Two current trends in the applied anthropology field include environmental issues and disaster research and development. Applied anthropologists do in-depth research and then take a hands-on approach to find the solution to specific problems. Many of these anthropologists work as program directors, business owners or administrators.

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