This image depicts an anthropology graduate student documenting a cache of more than fifty artifacts discovered in the Mosquitia jungle in Honduras.

Dave Yoder
  • In the most general sense, anthropology is the study of humanity. More specifically, anthropologists study human groups and culture, with a focus on understanding what it means to be human. Toward this goal, anthropologists explore aspects of human biology, evolutionary biology, linguistics, cultural studies, history, economics, and other social sciences.

    Anthropology emerged out of the New Imperialism of nineteenth-century Europe. During this time, European explorers came into contact with diverse groups and societies in the Americas and Asia. In the twentieth century, anthropology became increasingly specialized and professionalized as a social science.

    Modern anthropology is often divided into four distinct subdisciplines: biological anthropology, cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and archaeology. The four disciplines can be generally characterized as follows: biological anthropology (also known as physical anthropology) is the study of human-environmental adaptation; cultural anthropology is the study of how people develop and use culture as a tool; linguistic anthropology is the study of how people communicate and formulate language; and archaeology is the study of the past through material left behind (also known as artifacts). 

    While different types of anthropologists conduct different research, they all rely heavily on fieldwork. For archaeologists, this fieldwork involves the excavation of sites where ancient societies once lived. For cultural anthropologists, fieldwork commonly consists of interacting with modern social groups in order to better understand them or their distant ancestors. Anthropologists from different fields also commonly collaborate using their different skills to create a more comprehensive understanding of a particular group.


    anthropology (abridged)

    This image depicts an anthropology graduate student documenting a cache of more than fifty artifacts discovered in the Mosquitia jungle in Honduras.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    adaptation Noun

    a modification of an organism or its parts that makes it more fit for existence. An adaptation is passed from generation to generation.

    Encyclopedic Entry: adaptation
    anthropologist Noun

    person who studies cultures and characteristics of communities and civilizations.

    anthropology Noun

    science of the origin, development, and culture of human beings.

    Encyclopedic Entry: anthropology
    archaeology Noun

    study of human history, based on material remains.

    Encyclopedic Entry: archaeology
    artifact Noun

    material remains of a culture, such as tools, clothing, or food.

    biological anthropology Noun

    study of the evolution and physical development of human beings. Also called physical anthropology.

    biology Noun

    study of living things.

    comprehensive Adjective

    full, wide-ranging, or inclusive.

    cultural anthropology Noun

    study of the learned behavior of groups of people in specific environments.

    culture Noun

    learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

    evolution Noun

    change in heritable traits of a population over time.

    field work Noun

    scientific studies done outside of a lab, classroom, or office.

    Encyclopedic Entry: field work
    linguistic Adjective

    having to do with language or speech.

    linguistic anthropology Noun

    study of how language influences social life.