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A Brief Introduction to Anthropology

Updated on July 20, 2017

Anthropologists use a variety of techniques and approaches to conduct their investigation. It helps to understand the diverse human behavior and societies. It also helps to understands the similarities that link human beings across the globe. Anthropology has propelled research that has augmented our understanding of humanity from the beginnings of human societies to the present. Anthropology is a science, though a very humanistic one.

The word Anthropology is derived from two Greek words “Anthropo”, meaning humankind, and “Logta”, meaning “the study of”. So Anthropology is the study of humankind. But it is an ambiguous definition; it does not differentiate it from other disciplines such as History, Sociology, and Literature. What makes Anthropology stand apart from these closely connected disciplines is its subdivision into four categories: Physical Anthropology, Archeology, Linguistic Anthropology, and Cultural Anthropology.


Physical Anthropology

Physical Anthropology is the study of humans as a biological species. It is most scientific of the four subdivisions. It is concerned with the study of human evolution and variations in modern day human races. The study is done through discovery of fossils and their analysis; it is called paleoanthropology. Paleoanthropologists excavate the earth to find fossils. The fossils are cleared of the unwanted substances deposited with time. Physical anthropologists also show interest in genetics. The study of DNA informs how much similar or different were the hominids from the modern Homo Sapiens. It also tells how apes are related to modern humans. DNA analysis shows that Chimpanzees are the closest relatives alive of Homo Sapiens; they are more than 98% similar genetically.


Archeology is a branch of Anthropology that seeks to know the ancient societies and civilization by discovered materials and artifacts. Most of the discoveries are made by excavating the earth. The Indus valley civilization was found in the Harappa and Mohenjodaro cities in India (now in Pakistan). The cities were well planned. There were public bathes, houses made of brick and clay, potteries made of clay, and artifacts made of clay, wood and stones. There was well planned sewerage system. The Harappan civilization was a booming and well developed civilization. The discovery of Harappan civilization is a grand achievement of physical anthropology.

Linguistic Anthropology

Linguistic Anthropology studies the relationship between language and cultural.It studies how language is used within societies and how the human mind acquires and uses language.

Structural linguistics studies how language works. Structural linguists compare grammatical patterns and other elements of language to know similarities and difference in languages. They also seek to know whether people of different languages perceive the world differently. Do people of India who speak Hindi, see the world differently from that of English speaking people of England?

There is a branch of Linguistic Anthropology called Sociolinguistics. Sociolinguists are interested in both how different languages are used to define different social groups and how different social groups use different languages.

Cultural Anthropology

Cultural Anthropology, which is also called Ethnology, examines various contemporary societies and cultures throughout the world. Earlier western cultural anthropologists studied societies and cultures which have changed not at all or little from ancient times. Tribes of Asia, Africa, Latin America, and American Indians were subjects of cultural Anthropology. But now they are studying modern cultures with a discerning approach. It has shown that there are many things we do not observe about culture and society, and there are many things yet to be learned.

Applied Anthropology

Some Anthropologists believe that there are five subfields of Anthropology than four; the other one is applied anthropology. Applied Anthropology is the use of anthropological data gathered from other subfields to address modern problems and concerns.These problems may be environmental, technological,

economic, social, political, psychological or cultural. Anthropologists are playing an increasing role in the development of policies and legislation, the planning of development projects, and the implementation of marketing strategies.


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