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Understanding the Four Academic Branches of Anthropology

Updated on March 2, 2010
Wikimedia Commons | Ahron de Leeuw
Wikimedia Commons | Ahron de Leeuw

What Is Anthropology?

Anthropology is a social science dedicated to the study of the human race. Literally translated, it means the study of (-ology) humanity (anthropos). Anthropology is a very broad field of academia that studies everything from a culture’s food gathering methods, waste disposal, social structures, and religious beliefs.

Many people are under the false impression that anthropologists simply study old bones and relate them to the theory of evolution. However, this is only one subfield of anthropology called Physical anthropology. Three other subfields of anthropology include Cultural Anthropology, Archaeology, and Linguistic Anthropology.

Physical Anthropology

Physical anthropology specializes in the study of genetics and human evolution over time. However, the work of physical anthropologists go beyond digging up bones in remote locations around the globe. Physical anthropologists can “read” human remains to determine the deceased person’s diet, societal factors that may have caused bodily injury, and average length of lifespan. While most physical anthropologists find jobs in research and academia, some go on to become forensic anthropologists in the criminal justice system.

Cultural Anthropology

Cultural anthropology takes a very close look at various aspects of world cultures including clothing, oral hygiene, food gathering, waste disposal, religious rituals, family interaction, and indigenous land rights. Cultural anthropologists often specialize even further into various sub-subfields of anthropology such as ethnolinguists (study of a culture’s language) and ethnomusicologists (study of a culture's musical traditions). Cultural anthropologists find jobs in research, government, academia, and non-governmental organizations.


Highlighted by the captivating adventures of Dr. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) of film lore, archaeology studies great societies and cultures of the past. Archaeologists in the field excavate and sift through dirt in order to find buried historical treasures from long ago. Using these artifacts, they construct a picture of ancient cultures and their daily lives, what they ate, how they dressed, what they believed, and how they prepared their food. Archaeologists find jobs in academia as professors and in government agencies such as the National Park Service.

Wikimedia Commons | Josh Giovo
Wikimedia Commons | Josh Giovo

Linguistic Anthropology

Linguistic anthropology takes a close look at language production, expressive folklore and cultural studies, and specific cultural languages including Egyptian Hieroglyphics and Mayan. Linguistic anthropologists study the nuances of how cultures communicate through language including written and spoken communication. They typically find jobs in research and academia.

Other Anthropology Studies

Depending on the educational institution, many colleges and universities offer additional anthropology degrees including applied anthropology, culture and folklore, forensic anthropology, and activist anthropology.


Anthropology is a broad-spectrum social science that offers various opportunities to study past and present cultures around the world.


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    • danielgansle profile image

      danielgansle 2 years ago from Dallas, TX

      No problemo ecgdfdfdeekf

    • profile image

      Johng547 2 years ago

      Muchos Gracias for your blog post. ecgdfdfdeekf

    • SpaceShanty profile image

      SpaceShanty 3 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you for this insighful explination of the main areas of anthropology, it is true the subject is misunderstood and over simplified.

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      deborah kerubo from egerton kenya 4 years ago

      waaaoo anthropology is so nice to be studied am impressed with what is goingon

    • LongTimeMother profile image

      LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

      Nice explanation. Thank you.

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      politcal guru 08060985001 4 years ago

      Anthropology is indeed of excellence simply because it dates our minds back to beyond the point of written history....

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      politcal guru 0x 4 years ago

      Anthropology is indeed of excellence simply because it dates our minds back to beyond the point of written history....

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      munni 5 years ago

      so good. here is a lot of information which help me. thank you.

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      Diborah mokeira bogonko 5 years ago

      I am very much pleased about the study of anthropology

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      Baileybear 7 years ago

      thanks for this overview of what anthropology is. I've been rather curious about evolution of religion and other traditions in cultures around the world